By now, the whole world knows about "Crocodile Hunter" Steve Irwin’s death. When I got the news this morning, I thought it might be a joke or a hoax. I thought a lot about it on the drive back to Indy from South Bend this morning (what else are you going to think about on that featureless stretch of US 31?). I’m glad that Doodlebug, who knows Irwin from the Wiggles’ Wiggly Safari DVD, is young enough that I don’t have to explain what happened. We all enjoyed watching his various shows on Animal Planet, although Doodles is a little young to get the sheer level of bravado, enthusiasm, and fearlessness that made Irwin so compelling.
Steve Irwin was not any kind of role model for me (if he were, I’d probably have died a lot sooner than he did) but those characteristics of his — bravado, enthusiasm, fearlessness — were not lost on me as a mathematics teacher. I think most of my students probably see math like they would see a crocodile: something alive, malevolent in a way they can’t explain, and which will take a serious bite out of them if they get too close. Irwin made you see crocs in a different light by his gusto, his unflagging and sincere enthusiasm for doing what he did. One could almost like crocodiles and whatever dangerous animal was on the show. From the very first Crocodile Hunter episode I saw — which I thought also might be a joke or a hoax — I have thought that this attitude is the right way to approach teaching math. Do it with a sense of fun and adventure, and make no apologies. People are drawn in, and minds are changed, by an enthusiasm they can’t dare contradict.