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Playing with infinity on Rikers Island

I recoiled from maths as a child, but came to love its beauty—as did prisoners in one of America’s toughest jails

By David McConnell   March 2012

A history teacher of mine used to tell his pupils that he was teaching us scepticism—a habit of thought—rather than information. A wiry, brusque New Englander, he had us pore over first-person accounts of the first shot fired in the American revolutionary war. We concluded that this original “shot heard round the world” came neither from English nor American forces, but was likely fired by a farmer, an anonymous onlooker from the environs of Concord, Massachusetts. It was a pleasingly uncertain solution.

Years later, the same teacher took advantage of a Saturnalian program at our school. Teachers were invited to…

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