The textbook Cocker

Mathematics teaching has been cocked up – well and properly and officially – for a good long while, thanks to Edward Cocker and his amply-titled textbook Cocker’s Arithmetick: Being a Plain and Familiar Method Suitable to the Meanest Capacity for the Full Understanding of That Incomparable Art, As It Is Now Taught by the Ablest School-Masters in City and Country.

The book, published in 1667, and later reprinted in more than 100 editions, was a standard in British grammar schools for several generations. Foreign schoolteachers also took Cocker to their bosom.

The 34-word title exemplifies the book’s approach to explaining things clearly. One could (although the author would probably not) sum it up in three words: don’t be terse….

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

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