"At dinner last night, ..."

(Week 3 Mini-Prompt: You mention at a dinner party that you’re participating in a conference on humanizing mathematics. Someone seated next to you says “Humanizing mathematics?!? Mathematics is as far away from the humanities as can be. It’s rational, objective, neutral, apolitical, free from all culture! That’s what makes it a universal language and so powerful!” How do you respond? #VConHM)

1) WE TEACH STUDENTS!!!: I am a very positive and thoughtful person AND I am intense and passionate. I become extremely wary when the statement “We teach math.” is verbalized or flippantly stated. No! We teach STUDENTS! We teach students about math. We teach students the beauty and the curiosity that math creates and instills. We teach students to think mathematically about navigating economic and monetary problems and solutions. We teach students to think critically, discuss passionately and debate thoughtfully about the mathematics that is in and around them. In public discussions around the ‘teaching of mathematics,” I elaborate about what math is taught, why, and how, and to whom. We teach STUDENTS mathematics and they deserve the opportunity to play with it, to make sense of it and create new meaning for themselves.

2) Qualitative vs. Quantitative: So much of mathematics is graded, evaluated and quantified by a number or letter. Yes, statistics is mathematical and you can learn from an analysis of answered questions and/or summarizing data. However, how much does one learn from the written word? Visual art? Conversation? Can these also be used to learn, understand and/or qualify the ideas one shares or creates? Why is the view of mathematics so narrow that A standardized test can determine whether or not a student can learn about trigonometry, attend college classes for credit and/or go to recess? Remember, we teach STUDENTS mathematics…

3) Navigating Identity: “How do you navigate your identity when you are in public spaces?” I pose this question at dinner; six heterosexual, cisgender, middle class white people with various religious affiliations. There is silence. Then, one of the four women begins by sharing a story about managing her voice, body, tone, expressions, in a room full of men, so that they continue to fund her upcoming project. This is an example of navigating one identity (female) that differs from the majority or dominant identity (male) in this particular space. What if you have a variety of identities that differ from the dominant identity that holds the power in the room/school/meeting/society: different sexual orientation, different age, different nation of origin? How does one navigate, build relationships, work collaboratively with others that have different identities and/or, perhaps, different ideas of what success looks like? How can a math classroom be devoid of culture when every single student brings their own unique intersections of identity? How does one learn, feel included, feel they belong in the act of learning if one’s identity is ignored…demeaned…eliminated? Again, we teach STUDENTS mathematics. And math is full of culture and story and identity. Humans, and their identities, must be acknowledged and welcomed in any and all learning spaces. That’s humanizing mathematics!