Anja's overflow

Fierce culture war in mathematics

I’ve reported on Stanford math professor Jo Boaler before. Since the beginning of her research on how to bring mathematics to people from lower-income families, she has faced criticism, especially from older, white gentlemen who want to hold on to her (outdated) didactics.

Their fight for the old status quo has always been fought tooth and nail. In recent years, the disputes seem to have hardened further. This is stunned reported by a fellow math student of Jo Boaler in the blog article linked here.

Death threats. Rape Threats. PTSD. I never thought those awful words would be in a math blog, much less my last one. But there is no way to tell the whole story without it. That’s what Jo Boaler is dealing with now. What kind of climate of discourse and understanding about mathematics education must exist to contribute to such unimaginable and relentless hostility? (For the record: Jo Boaler told me these threats in private. It is very difficult for me to get these letters out of my head – and they were not even addressed to me).

This wave of escalation is prompted by the current drafting of a newly adapted math curriculum for the state of California, which is nearing completion. In times of the information age with increasingly data-based decision-making structures, new qualifications are required in the broad workforce. To do this, basic educational principles must be questioned and individual math hatred must be overcome.

Jo Boaler had done a lot of research on this (among others) and developed models on how to find more “natural” ways to the beauty of mathematics. However, as a consequence, this means that it cannot only be mastered by “ingenious” (mostly) men. Naturally, the latter only like this to a limited extent, resulting in the first smug bullying attacks, which have now reached unspeakable proportions thanks to the digitally enhanced excitement culture.

So the other day, Republican hardliner and Florida governor Ron DeSantis also railed against the woke math culture in textbooks(see Politico article here). In general, conservatives are very much resisting the social-emotional skills profile that has recently been in high demand and that more and more people need in order to ride the disruptive waves in the labor market constructively.

In addition to a deep understanding of technology, however, managing our future (of work) requires more empathy, including at management level, in order to be able to set up and maintain decentralized, networked structures in line with the times. Thus, one thing leads to another and the “natural” mainstream elites come under pressure.

But why does it hit Jo Boaler, of all people, so disproportionately, since she is only one of six central authors of the Mathematics Framework’s, the author asks himself. He concludes:

Yes, the world of mathematics education has always been fraught with political debate, but the ferocity of the attacks – stemming from a lethal cocktail of fear, ignorance, and an unwillingness to learn the truth – leads to a sadly familiar response that transcends even heated debate.

Jo Boaler is female.

And she shouldn’t have to fight alone. He’s right about that. So full solidarity!

And yes: we need to fundamentally adapt mathematics didactics to today’s times. In Germany, too, we cannot afford to lose just one talent in the face of old-fashioned didactics. Because: ALL can learn math! Even in old age! And we urgently need this social competence.

Article published on piqd on August 22, 2022 as a reference to the medium article. Dehumanizing Math Educators: The Jo Boaler Story You Don’t Know

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