# Mathematics Conferences Have Traded Mathematical Substance For Pedagogical Style

Math education has been hijacked by fame-seeking folks. The plane is going down, carrying uninspiring cargo…

*Over 20 years ago, I went to my first math conference. I remember my backpack being full of wonderful handouts of new problems, new puzzles, and new conundrums that I was eager in sharing with my students when I got back.*

*We called these “Monday Problems”.*

*Below is one of those handouts.*

*I remember eating lunch with kindred spirits in a cafeteria discussing our sessions — which all revolved around mathematical ideas. In fact, many of us would break out our pencil and paper and start scrawling initial insights to the freshly received packet of mathematics…*

It was the best of times.

It’s now the worst of times. We don’t discuss mathematics anymore. We discuss delivery models that are proportional to edu-celebrity style.

20 years ago, *we still had debates about delivery models*. That’s never gone away. What has gone away is the underlying mathematics — the pure, simple joy of going to a math conference and doing mathematics.

Your job as a presenter was to sell mathematics. Nobody had books or social media. Mathematics — especially as large as it is — dwarfed us all. We were merely humble transmitters of this beautiful language.

Unfortunately today, with so much emphasis on style, selfies, and selling, it’s just turned into a fuckin’ gong show of reducing mathematics to marketing terms for the hustle culture — which by association, is only going to dabble in superficial remedies and fixes.

For example, all this talk about resilience, productive struggle, and the importance of failure is NOT worth anything if the actual content is boring and alienating.

For contrast, skateboarders not only thrive on failure, they are comfortable in doing it in public — to the point where fails are celebrated to be “epic”!

To sell failure with the tedium of K to 12 mathematics, replete with constant testing and pressure to perform, is kind of insincere.

K to 12 mathematics is boring. All math anxiety is derived from school delivering absolutely shitty mathematics with high stakes testing. If you’re not addressing that, then all your solutions in your pedagogical wares are simply high priced snake oil.

We are not allowing our students to rightfully reject the bland mathematics that they have to endure. Quite the opposite. We gaslight them into distrusting their own instincts about the mathematics they see.

As well, every student should be aware of Manjul Bhargava, second youngest fully tenured professor in Princeton’s history(when he was 28). He hated school math and skipped school.

This opening excerpt from Paul Lockhart’s first book foretold of the potential educational mess we could be in.

At least a few decades ago, discussions of this potential theft was on the table at math conferences.

Now the nightmare is academically on par with anything that existed on Elm Street.

Not that anything else I can say can make this worse, but please let’s stop the bullshit of “community” that gets peddled around at these conferences.

That’s like saying high school was one big community — when it wasn’t. It was filled with cliques, jocks, nerds, mean girls/boys, etc.

I have been going to these conferences for years. The partitioning is worse than high school — exacerbated by edu-celebrities who put themselves first.

And, for the umpteenth time, I am not — was never — even remotely close to that icky fandom. I slept on a basement couch for six years until October 2023. I have done PD for $125 for a rural high school in Kingsport, Tennessee. I post all sort of mayhem on my social media.

I am not bought. I am a free agent who has spent his entire career focusing in on rich mathematical content with storytelling.

The amount of fucks I have left to give in terms of what my peers think is this.

A few weekends ago, I returned from one of the best experiences in my life of real community — no egos, no competition, delta between artists and fans being zero, and **100% emphasis on music content**.

The above picture also fully symbolizes what mathematics truly is. Let’s have Paul Lockhart lead us out here with what he thinks…