Monday, May 09, 2005

Louis Leithold, RIP

This wont mean much to most people (but then again, no one is really reading any of this anyway, so...what ever), but about a week ago, Louis Leithold passed away. He was 80 years old and apparently died of natural causes. Leithold was a math teacher. Really, he was a great math teacher and the author of several text books - most notably, The Calculus, regarded as the standard of calculus textbooks. My first calculus book was his book. Leithold first wrote the book in 1968 and it is still in print today, now in its 7th printing. It is still used to teach students today. I'm holding in my lap another of Leithold's books, Before Calculus, I use this book in my own classroom as a supplement to my district's adopted textbook for the course we call Elementary Functions (the rest of this country calls it Pre-calculus). It has a lot of good examples and problems and I can use material from the book to fill in the holes that often exist in the text we now use.

I never met the man, I really didn't know much about him to be honest. I only knew of him from his books. But I read an obituary of him today on and it made me sad. Louis was clearly a great teacher. At the age of 72, rather than retire and enjoy his golden years in leisure activity, Louis agreed to start a calculus program at Malibu High School. He was dedicated to his profession and influenced thousands of students and teachers during his lifetime.

There aren't a lot of good mathematics teachers out there. That statement may not seem to have a whole lot of significance, but it is a symptom of a really serious problem facing this country. Think about the implications of the statement. "There aren't a lot of good mathematics teachers hot there." I myself teach in a school with a mathematics department of 13 teachers. Two or three of them are good (and yes, I count myself in that number), five or six of them are mediocre, and the remaining five or six - they are really, really terrible. We're in trouble here folks. We don't live a world where it's o.k. to say "ha ha ha ha, I was really terrible at math when I was in school" anymore. And to be honest, it's nearly always the case that those who say that weren't really terrible at math, they just had really lousy teachers. I don't really think it was ever o.k. to say such a thing - the life skills we get from mathematics (number sense, problem solving, analytical thinking, logical reasoning, the ability to see and understand patterns, to generalize from patterns) are extremely valuable and sometimes critical skills in life. We can't afford to be spitting out mathematically illiterate students from our schools anymore.

We lost a good man when Louis Leithold died. I've been kind of sad all day long today.


At 2:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as you said it's really sad...
we(including me) the entire system(University of the Philippines)affected for such a loss.

Even though im not an A student in calculus, i admired him for his book for its simplicity.

He's the best!
*TC7 is ths standard calcText on our state university. :=))

At 11:44 AM, Anonymous seyyed abbaas-e seyyed mohammadi said...

in the name of god
i am an iranian
i searched "leithold was", and saw your weblog
is "leithold" originally a german name?
leithold; leuthold; leitholt; lighthold
why there is no good biography of louis leithold?

At 3:33 PM, Blogger dax said...

In the preface of TC7, Leithold believed in Einstein's quote "everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler", it is same principle that I am using whenever I teach. Whatever commendations or awards that I receive as a calculus instructor, I will always owe it to Leithold.

Oprah touches people's lives, and so did Mother Teresa. Who cimagined that someone can do the same thing, using calculus?

Hail to you, Master Leithold...

At 3:05 PM, Anonymous Antonio. said...

Los libros "Matematicas previas al Cálculo (Before Calculus)" y "El Cálculo (The Calculus)"....son dos excelentes herencias...que nos ha dejado el Maestro Louis Leithold a todos aquellos que nos parece placentero y por qué no decirlo, amamos, trabajar y estar en contacto directo con las matematicas.

Dios tome en sus manos el alma del Maestro Leithold.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger ROBERTO said...

I studied thirty years back with his book which was a text guide in my class at the university. Community and Students are going to miss a devoted man like him.
God Bless him and the people (men and women) struggling to make this world easier and understandable.

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