In “The Narcissism of Mathematics Education”
, Alexandre Pais says that “mathematics education research is narcissistic because, lacking a concrete object, it sees nothing but itself”. Math education researchers who talk about “mathematics for all” turn a blind eye to the reality that many students are in math class for the school credit, and so mathematics is not actually “for all”. Instead, math education researchers—and by extension people interested in this research—create “an imaginary world where mathematics can be an adventure into knowledge, the ultimate problem solving technology or the most crucial component of critical citizenship”.
The math education research community, as he claims, is sometimes so optimistic about the role of math in kids’ lives that we don’t stop to consider when kids may be in it for the grades and not the math. By subtracting from reality the economic role of school math, the research community flourishes under the illusion that math has inherent relevance while creating the very problems it seeks to address.
That’s quite the claim, and in response I say, cool, then let’s be narcissists
. I don’t entirely agree with his argument. But even to the extent that he’s correct, it’s still an open question where this thinking takes us. The recent events at the Capitol and everything else kicking off 2021 make clear that taking a critical approach to mathematical, quantitative, statistical, scientific, and data literacy is now more important than ever.
I think about a thread
by Aristotle Ou
, in which he, Jenna Laib
, and Marian Dingle
talk about asking students to feel and act in response to U.S. poverty rates and economic justice.
I think about the mathematics of machine learning algorithms, which have been used in AI technologies to perpetuate gender and racial bias. The Algorithmic Justice League
has a new film, Coded Bias, which is screening in virtual theaters
beginning this week.
I think about Kendra Pierre-Louis
’s open question about how often the media covers white supremacists versus people who have experienced white supremacist violence
I think about how many executions
are happening now and how much racial bias
continues to exist in a school-to-prison pipeline that can ultimately end in death.
I think about how $1400
is not enough and the mathematical models that have supported fiscal conservatism for the past four years.
I think about the minimum wage
, teacher salaries
, experiments around UBI
, and the economic and mathematical “common sense” that drives repeated arguments against wage increases.
I think about the overwhelming whiteness of mathematics that results in this
I think about this analysis
of Paycheck Protection Program funding given to charter schools, religious schools, and private schools across the U.S.
I think about the spatial relationship
between COVID fatalities and vaccinations in the U.S.
I think about pharmaceutical price hikes
, bonus formulas, and what we let people do with math when we’re too preoccupied by whether the math is technically correct.
These mathematical questions matter. They touch students’ lives in ways that are sometimes hard to see and other times grievously easy. They are as real as grades and should
be among the driving forces behind everything that goes on in math education. Sadly, this is not always the case.