Professor Emeritus David H. Wheeler died in Vancouver on October 7 at
the age of 75.
He was appointed full professor of mathematics at Concordia University
in 1976 after a distinguished career in England in mathematics education
and as the editor of Mathematics Teaching, the journal of the Association
of Teachers of Mathematics in the United Kingdom.
As soon as he arrived, he helped create the first national forum for discussing
mathematics education at all levels of instruction. This initiative resulted
in the formation of the Canadian Mathematics Education Study Group, presently
planning its twentysecond annual meeting. As a longtime president of
the organization, Professor Wheeler provided the initiative, imagination,
drive and leadership critical to its growth.
For over a decade, he was Canada’s representative to the International
Commission on Mathematics Instruction, a role that led to a successful
submission to hold the Seventh International Congress of Mathematics Education
in 1992 at Université Laval. Professor Wheeler was then elected
chair of the international program committee. He was also a frequent invited
speaker at national and international meetings, where his presentations
always showed the breadth of his thinking, and his ability to connect
mathematical, psychological and historical aspects to pedagogical problems.
He created a personal legacy for the discipline in the form of the international
journal For the Learning of Mathematics, of which he was editor
for its first 50 volumes. It is now one of the mostly widely read journals
in the field.
When he joined Concordia, he brought a wider perspective to the Master’s
in the Teaching of Mathematics program, introducing faculty and students
to Piaget’s work in developmental psychology, Polya’s classical
writing on heuristics and problem solving, and Lakatos’ perceptive
insights of the process of mathematization and proof. He brought the international
mathematics education community to Concordia by attracting visiting scholars
and lecturers, and helped launch the research aspect of the mathematics
education group.
Professor Wheeler often challenged mathematicians to unravel the genetic
development of mathematical ideas and to objectify and describe the mental
processes that produce mathematics, an activity he called “mathematization.”
He expressed these ideas in his talk at the 1982 International Congress
of Mathematics in Helsinki:
“The formal face of mathematics generally hides, rather than reveals,
the inner life  at least, until one has enough experience to be able
to read its expression,” he said. “A definition, for example,
often covers up the real source of the awareness that ‘this will
be worth pursuing,’ and a proof can mask the source of conviction
that a result is actually valid.
“In looking at mathematization, we are, it seems to me, trying to
get as close as we can to the phenomenology of the awareness and convictions
that we experience when we are doing mathematics and which power the movement
of our mathematical thoughts. We can try to raise this awareness and convictions
into consciousness  become aware of our awareness, if you like  and
then we may be able to find a way of talking about them that will make
sense of these experiences.”
David Wheeler earned the respect and the affection of his peers and his
students, and Concordia University has been a much richer institution
for his presence.
 Joel Hillel, Chair, Mathematics and Statistics
