At my Jewish day school, our principal was British and preferred being called "headmaster". Occasionally, he'd visit our 8th grade classroom during the half of the day reserved for secular studies. He would knock and politely ask the teacher if he might interrupt for a moment. Then, with that dignified but musical accent, he’d read us a bit of literature – poetry, perhaps, or part of a play. Or he’d lead us on a journey into the unknown by presenting us with an algebraic problem or two.
The 15 of us in the class had moved as a group through the grades, gaining or losing one or two along the way. So I probably could have predicted who’d surreptitiously groan at this interruption (usually a boy).
I, on the other hand, adored every moment of every visit. Later, when I enjoyed all of high school algebra and geometry, chances are there was a connection. Even today, a long time later, I keep on my book shelf a plane geometry review book I once came across at a yard sale. Some day, I hope to find the time to relearn all those theorems. They can take me from a problem’s skimpy offering of givens to the seemingly impossible proof, if I just discover the necessary connecting steps and take them.
At college, I majored in English and spent a lot of my extracurricular time with the university's theatre groups. Math courses were not among my requirements. Besides, without really thinking about it, I had begun to divide the world in certain ways. Scientists and mathematicians were other people. I was in the arts.
But what makes something an art?
I don’t know if Mr. Plotnick, our headmaster, pondered such matters when, before a visit, he'd contemplate what to bring to our classroom that day. Literature? Math? Did it matter? Did he realize on a conscious level what he was teaching us? A Shakespeare play and a well-solved math challenge are more the same than different. They are both poetry.