Annapolis Valley Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) – Memorial Minute for Zoltan Paul Dienes
Testimony to the Grace of God in the Life of Zoltán Paul Dienes. 11 Sept 1916 – 11 Jan 2014
Zoltán Dienes was a member of Annapolis Valley Monthly Meeting. He attended regularly from 1987 to 2006 until ill health made his presence irregular. His frequent spoken ministry was much valued, as was his good humour and sense of fun, engaging all across the generations.
He was born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1916. His father, Paul Dienes, was an eminent mathematics professor who had to flee to England after the fall of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. His mother, Valéria Dienes, was a philosopher, choreographer, and developed a dance theory called orkesztika (orchestics). His early years were spent in Hungary, Austria, Italy and France. At 15 he moved to England. He received his PhD in mathematics from the University of London in 1939. He married Tessa (Cooke), his childhood friend, in 1938 and they had 68 years together before Tessa passed in 2006. They had five children, fourteen grandchildren and seventeen great grandchildren.
Our Friend was a true ‘renaissance man’ with a deep love for music, art and nature. He was fluent in French, Italian, Hungarian, German and English and conversed in a number of other languages. He loved to sing and the family could often be heard singing together in Hungarian, Italian or Gaelic. He also enjoyed the outdoors – hiking, cross-country skiing and swimming were some of his favourite pastimes.
Zoltán was a deeply spiritual person and had a deep relationship with God throughout his life. He became a convinced Quaker in 1952. He was a member of Leicester Monthly Meeting in England and the whole family attended that Meeting until they moved to Australia in 1961. While in England, he volunteered with the Friends Service Council of London Yearly Meeting (now Britain Yearly Meeting). In Australia, he was a member of Adelaide Monthly Meeting. In the two years of transition in the USA before settling in Canada, Zoltán, Tessa and the two younger children attended Quaker Meetings in Palo Alto, Minneapolis, and New York City. After moving to Canada in 1966 he rented a small apartment in Montreal that made it possible for the family to attend Montreal Monthly Meeting more regularly, even though they lived 150km away in Sherbrooke. There, he served on Ministry and Counsel. In 1975, he and Tessa moved to Winnipeg and were involved with the Quaker Meeting there. They moved to Europe where he worked in England, France, Italy and Germany. They were based in England and attended Totnes Monthly Meeting in Devonshire. On his retirement, they moved back to Canada, settling in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. In addition to the Annapolis Valley Meetings for Worship he also sometimes attended the Wolfville Baptist Church.
A prolific writer of poetry, his work was often mystical in nature, filled with an exploration of the Divine. In later life, as his perception of the purpose of the life of Christ Jesus was developing further, he undertook to put into poetic form a paraphrase of the four Gospels, the Book of Acts and part of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, using classical meters.
Zoltán understood the art and aesthetics of mathematics and his passion was to share this with teachers and children alike. He was fascinated by the difficulties many people had in learning mathematics and wanted others to see the beauty of it as he did. Consequently, he completed an additional degree in psychology in order to better understand thinking processes. He became known for his work in the psychology of mathematics education from which he created the new field of psychomathematics. Referred to as a “maverick mathematician”, Zoltán introduced revolutionary ideas of learning complex mathematical concepts in fun ways including games and dance, so that children were often unaware that they were learning mathematics – they were having a wonderful, exciting, creative time and longing for more. He invented the Dienes Multibase Arithmetic Blocks and many other games and materials that embodied mathematical concepts. He was an early pioneer in what was later to be called sociocultural perspectives and democratization of learning.
Zoltán dedicated his professional career to improving mathematics education all over the world: England, Australia, New Guinea, United States of America, Canada, Germany, Italy, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, France, Spain and Greece. He was the director of the Centre de Recherches en Psychomathématiques at the Université de Sherbrooke in Quebec for over ten years, collaborating with researchers and educators from across the globe. In addition to his work in mainstream school systems, he spent time with children in the tribal highlands of New Guinea, in the barrios of Rio de Janeiro, with First Nations and Métis classes in Manitoba, and trained Peace Corps workers to teach in the Philippines. After his formal retirement, he taught part time in the Department of Education at Acadia University and visited many local classrooms. He published profusely well into his nineties. His body of work includes numerous articles, educational materials, and more than 30 books, including a memoir and a collection of poetry.
His legacy of enthusiasm for learning, of love of humanity and exploration of the mystery of the Divine will live on in the hearts and minds of teachers, children, family and all those who were connected to him. We have been blessed by his presence among us.