a list compiled by Alex Kasman (College of Charleston)
|Note: This work of mathematical fiction is recommended by Alex for children.|
|This episode of Disney's Saturday Morning cartoon "Recess" is clearly a parody of the film "Good Will Hunting". I hope this doesn't lower anyone's opinion of me...but I personally liked it better than the film! Viewed in terms of what it says about mathematics and the people who do it, I found this version of the story truer to my own feelings about mathematics. (Plus, I am impressed with the
nerve of the creators to include a sentence about integrals as the
limit of Riemann sums on a Saturday morning cartoon!)
The show opens with "free study" time in the third grade class of our regular characters. Most students are reading comic books or quietly meditating. But, the class nerd, Gretchen Grundler, is furiously working on a problem. At the teacher's suggestion, she puts it on the board so that she and Gretchen's classmates can help. However, when they see the integral she is trying to evaluate (she describes it as starting off as a simple quadratic, but having a non-Euclidean twist) they realize they have no chance of helping.
As you might guess if you've seen Good Will Hunting, they return later to find the solution to the problem on the board. To find out who the "genius" is who was able to solve the problem, they put an even harder problem on the board.
The problem appears to be something from vector calculus. Again, it is no surprise to those who've seen the film that the mathematician turns out to be Hank, the janitor.
All of the kids are surprised that an elementary school janitor can do math, but when they press him he says simply: "I just like math is all!" (Gretchen is especially impressed that he could solve this second problem, which she calls "The Generalized Fermat-Wiles equation.") Gretchen and Hank form "the Mathletic Club" where the conversations are like:
The other kids are not interested in the math. ("No, I can't take another minute of the cold, unyielding world of numbers.") But, they understand her interest in it and leave her with Hank to discuss "abstract fractals".
Sometimes, Hank's job gets in the way of their fun. For example, Hank finds Gretchen in the lunch room and excitedly says "You'll never believe the fingerpaint spill I just cleaned up. It looked just like a Mandelbrot pattern!" But, a first grader stands up on the other side of the lunchroom shouting "I ate 10 puddings, I'm the pudding king, I ate 10 puddings...I'm going to be sick!". He runs out of the lunchroom and almost immediately Hank's beeper sounds. ("Could have predicted that one" he says.)
The kids decide that Hank should get a better job, so they post his computations on the internet. The next day in the yard, Hank is approached by Professor Rubinstein (looks like Einstein) who offers him a job in the math department at "the university". "Think of it as play, and your biggest toy will be our supercomputer!"
Then, a camoflage painted machine burrows up from under the school playground and a general approaches Hank. "Your country needs you," he says. "And if you think cracking codes and blowing things up is cool, you've got a future in this man's army!"
Next, NASA guys appear in a floating bubble asking for his help in making intergalactic transportation "a reality for the whole family."
The kids offer their advice about what job he should accept. "The glowing ball guys are way cool." "Go with the tunnel boring machine!" "No way, Hank, higher learning is pure and good!"
Hank doesn't know what to do. "Supercomputers, intergalactic travel, blowing things up...these are the things us number guys dream of, but what to choose?" In the end, he decides to stay a janitor.
Great News! The episode can now be watched at YouTube.com:
Bad News! YouTube seems to have taken it down. It now seems to be available at WatchCartoonOnline.com, but I cannot promise that this is either legal or likely to remain available for long.
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(Maintained by Alex Kasman, College of Charleston)