Conic Sections Rebellion

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Conic Sections Rebellion, also known as the Conic Section Rebellion, refers primarily to an incident which occurred at Yale University in 1830,[1] as a result of changes in the methods of mathematics education.[2] When a policy change dictated that students were required to draw reference diagrams for exams rather than be allowed to refer to diagrams in their textbooks, a number of students staged a rebellion in which they refused to take the exams at all. A precursor incident occurred in 1825; historian Clarence Deming described the 1830 incident as being "much more serious", and stated that the two incidents should be "sharply demarcated".[3]

1825 incident[edit]

In 1825, students of the Yale sophomore class claimed that "by explicit contract with (their) mathematical tutor, (they were) exempt from the corollaries of the text-book (on conic sections)",[3] and refused to recite these corollaries. Thirty-eight students out of a class of eighty-seven, including Horace Bushnell, William H. Welch, Henry Hogeboom, and William Adams, were suspended; faculty contacted the students' parents, and the students were pressured into signing a statement of concession:

We, the undersigned, having been led into a course of opposition to the government of Yale College, do acknowledge our fault in this resistance, and promise, on being restored to our standing in the class, to yield a faithful obedience to the laws (of Yale College).

— Statement of concession which ended the Conic Sections Rebellion of 1825.[3]

1830 incident[edit]

Prior to the introduction of blackboards, Yale students had been allowed to consult diagrams in their textbooks when solving geometry problems pertaining to conic sections – even on exams. When the students were no longer allowed to consult the text, but were instead required to draw their own diagrams on the blackboard, they refused to take the final exam. As a result, forty-three of the ninety-six students – among them, Alfred Stillé,[4] and Andrew Calhoun, the son of John C. Calhoun[5] – were summarily expelled, and Yale authorities warned neighboring universities against admitting them.[6]


  1. ^ TIMELINE OF SELECTED EVENTS IN THE HISTORY OF YALE at Yale University Library, published March 19 2010; retrieved July8 2011
  2. ^ Teaching Math in America: An Exhibit at the Smithsonian, from Notices of the American Mathematical Society, volume 49, no. 9 (October 2002), pp 1082–1083, by Allyn Jackson; retrieved July 8 2011
  3. ^ a b c Yale Yesterdays (via, by Clarence Deming, published 1915 by Yale University Press
  4. ^ "Alfred Stillé (1813-1900)". JAMA: the Journal of the American Medical Association. 196 (11): 1017. 1966. doi:10.1001/jama.1966.03100240151042. 
  5. ^ John C. Calhoun: American portrait, by Margaret L. Coit, University of South Carolina Press, 1950; page 219
  6. ^ Stories in stone: travels through urban geology, 2009, Bloomsbury Publishing, page 179