Math Education Never Changed The Game, Only The Board

Sunil Singh
3 min readApr 6, 2024

I began sharing this image 8 years ago. That’s even before I began writing books, and obviously before the pandemic.

Ah, the pandemic. Should have been a reset button, pause for the inflection moment it could have been in education — mathematics education specifically.

It didn’t. Districts, administrators, and others having 30000 ft views of the classrooms, just doubled, tripled, quadrupled down on everything that was a failed mess.

Rehumanizing mathematics? Dead.

Joy, beauty, awe, and wonder? Dead.

The experience of mathematics that is now being administered — seems like a choice verb of unchecked bureaucracy — is now primarily through a lens of embarrassing(well, it should be) business language and societal competency. To peddle the lowest-hanging fruit purpose of mathematics as currency for functioning in society.

Proof? Look at the words and messaging of Amplify’s recent Virtual Symposium on mathematics. I watched 2 minutes of the opening remarks by Jason Zimba before I realized my coffee was too weak.

Nothing screams beauty and joy like “instruction, agency, and proficiency”

You don’t even get a sniff of proficiency for life — now’s there a t-shirt I want — if you don’t have “Curiosity for Life”.

The mathematical future of our all students doesn’t depend on proficiency. By the way, what does that even mean? Proficient in what? I am not proficient in the universe of mathematics. Never will be.

Oh, you mean sterile, mechanical operations as found in horribly anachronistic K to 12 mathematics education. Gotcha.

Mathematics is dead. My mentor, Peter Harrison, said it to me over 20 years ago. I’ve been saying it for at least 5.

Mathematics has become a poor, misused, underused understudy in its own play — which now has proficiency as its lead actor.

These past few weeks, Amoret Lyon(8 years-old) has been curious to learn more about the “piggyback number” — that she named.

We explored this question.

Anyone want to question how “proficient” in mathematics she will be by the time she gets to high school. We’re not taking a literal, dry road to get this soulless outpost. We’re taking a scenic route with a convertible. We might stop for gas at Proficientville.

Mathematics should be an adventure — because it is.

Whether you are going back to basics, or revving up your 1990’s minivan full of Science of Math passengers heading to the dead end of proficiency, you are asking for students to take a ride in your dismal journey of boredom, anxiety, and alienation.

It didn’t work last century. It won’t work in this one. Neither children or mathematics are board pieces for your broken game of mathematics education.

If we checked on the mental health of students regarding this, we might reconsider the blandness we are imposing — have always imposed on them.

We promised them better, we just never delivered.

Below is the bottom of a magical treehouse print from 1956 by Mark Launer. Symbolically, you can’t purchase this anymore…