From: Adam Walsh
Date: Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 9:44 PM
Subject: Advice on telling the public why maths is important
Hello Dr Tao,
My name is Adam Walsh and I live in the country in South East
Queensland. I am looking for ideas to help my only regional university
(USQ) keep its maths department. I am going to be interviewed by the
paper this Friday because I am nine years old and I have completed a
university maths subject. I can use this as a chance to talk about how
theoretical maths and science are important to the community, however I
do not know how to sway the opinion of the public very well. Any ideas
you have would be greatly appreciated. **** and **** at the
university are not allowed to speak to the press about what is happening
so I feel it is important that I say what I can. Please let me know if I
can quote your reply which would give my statements more credibility as
I am just a precocious child and you are a famous Australian.
Used with explicit permission and encouragement of both Adam Walsh and his father. [Adam turned 10 this month. – Ed.]
From: Adam Walsh
To: Terence Tao
Date: Fri, Apr 4, 2008 at 6:12 AM
Hello Dr. Tao
Today I had the interview with the reporter at USQ. It did not work. The
idea was that I was an interesting story because I did my first subject at nine and got a High Distinction and the Maths Department has been so wonderful in helping me and lots of other kids and are planning some new ways of teaching maths teachers which might help fix up maths in schools. The reporter was then going to shock the public by saying that the department was now going to be closed and this and everything else they do would all stop. What I did will aid the uni very little because **** and **** suddenly refused to put down their names, even as the people who had helped me, for fear of their jobs. They are both old and I think they are scared they won’t get another job without moving a long distance.
It makes me angry but I understand. They said they have many other ways of saving the department but I think they are just talking about talking to maths people who already know the department needs saving. Somebody needs to get the public upset too because there are a lot more of them and they cant be bullied. The reporter might call you to ask you to make a comment. Her name is Merryl Miller. She is very nice and I trust her because she understands about children who do different things as she has a boy who was in the adult Brisbane orchestra when he was ten. She cares about the problem even though she doesn’t know much about maths. She asked all the people in the room to explain differential equations in terms of shopping! She is frustrated that all we are left with is a story with me saying stupid things and nothing provable about what is really happening in the department with lots of lies from the people who want to close it.
It is really stupid. The man they are scared of seems like a bully who picks on weak kids one at a time and the teachers and lecturers in the department are cowering down on their own and not fighting him together and winning, in case one of them gets a punch in the nose.
My dad says maybe I should drop it and not bother you because they won’t help themselves but I think it is important. It is a bit like when you decide to give up on a problem and go to sleep where all you have ended up proving is 1=1 for days but you still really cant do anything else except start again in the morning.
I never wanted any publicity but I did the interview with the paper because it is the only way I could help. There is a chance I can go on television. I am very shy and I really hate answering questions when I don’t get a long time to think but I will go on television too even though I will probably look stupid if it will help. Do you think I should?
Used with explicit permission and encouragement of both Adam Walsh and his father. [The story by Miller mentioned in the letter ended up running, in a two-page spread, on 8 April in the Toowomba Chronicle. – Ed.]