Frenkel starts off not liking math until a man by the name Evgeny Evgenievich converts him to focus on mathematics. This began his journey and love of mathematics. Throughout his life Frenkel has dealt with struggles and triumph moments. For instance, when he was applying to go to college he was discriminated against due to the fact that he was Jewish. (Note that his childhood life took place in Russia). He went through an extensive application process to get into the most mathematical prestigious college, Moscow State University. The application took the average mathematics lover around an hour but since Frenkel was Jewish they questioned him for 5 hours or so and he did not pass (even though he answered all their questions correctly). Who would want to go through that process to know that there’s a good probability you won’t pass?
However, this did not discourage Frenkel completely in following his dreams to becoming and learning more about mathematics. He got accepted to Moscow Institute of Oil and Gas which had an applied mathematics program. Throughout the four years there, Frenkel met multiple mathematicians that helped him achieve a goal of his. This was to solve a problem or conjecture most people couldn’t. Thus, with the help of Dmitry Borisovich Fuchs, Frenkel published his work on braided groups. Although, this was not the end of Frenkels math journey. He later met Borya Feigin. Frenkel credits him as the best advisor he has had because he ‘turbocharged’ his mathematical career. However, little did Frenkel know that Borya would play such an important role in his life until later.
Towards the end of college, Frenkel’s mathematical career brought him to the United States, Harvard University in specific. Where he met another beneficial mathematician, known as Vladimir Drinfeld. While working with Drinfeld for multiple years they published a mathematical finding dealing with the Lie groups. This program is known as Langlands Program. However, to top his mathematical contributions Frenkel, along with others, created a grant to support their research about how Langland Program and electromagnetic duality are related. Thus, Frenkel has had an amazing mathematical career considering he didn’t even like math at first.
As I reflect on this book, I think about my mindset while reading. I went into reading this book trying to find an aspect I could use or learn in order to benefit my elementary career. That being said, I took a couple themes out of this book that my students can relate to. The first being this idea of collaboration. Throughout Frenkels math journey he came across multiple mathematicians that he learned and shared his ideas with. In return they founded and created multiple mathematical findings. This is a good concept for students to grasp because some problems you can’t do it all by yourself. It’s okay to ask for help. Frenkel made plenty of mistakes but it was how he asked questions and collaborated with his “mentors” when he was wrong. Also, working with multiple people Frenkel could make hidden connections between different math concepts he has learned; which ultimately this is the goal of an educator. The second concept I will take away from this is the commitment and drive Frenkel had to succeed. As stated earlier, Frenkel had been through some trials in his life that he was not used too. He had to overcome those using perseverance in order to get closer to accomplish his dreams. This is a great theme for students to know. As I said earlier, Frenkel wasn’t perfect. He made mistakes but he used those mistakes and asked the right questions to point him in the proper direction. I would love for my future students to find something to commit too even though at first they might not succeed but will learn to try again. Finally, the last concept is love and appreciation for the process. Frenkel didn’t love math right away but he gave it a chance and eventually appreciated the subject enough to devote all his time into learning as much as he could. This is another goal of an educator. You want your students to want to learn or at least want to try to learn because once they understand it they begin to “love” it.
I want to end with one of my favorite quotes from this book because I feel like as a future educator we are sometimes overlooked. On page 129, Frenkel is giving credit to his advisor Borya on an epiphany moment of how he effected his life. He states “it’s hard work being a teacher! I guess in many ways it’s like having children. You have to sacrifice a lot, not asking for anything in return. Of course, the rewards can also be tremendous. But how do you decide in which direction to point students, when to give them a helping hand and when to throw them in the deep waters and let them learn to swim on their own? This is art. No one can teach you how to do this.”