Mathematics Will Be A Counter-Culture Revolution

Sunil Singh
4 min readJun 7, 2024

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Roadburn: Premiere Heavy Music Festival Since 1999

It’s highly likely you have never heard of Roadburn, an annual event that draws people to Tilburg, Netherlands every April from all over the world. I was supposed to go in 2006, when I lived and taught in Switzerland(International School of Lausanne).

For most of my life I have been fully immersed in the counter-culture movements of heavy music. Although now, in 2024, festivals having the same ethos as Roadburn — the pioneers of inclusive, ego-free, and community-driven(artists and fans) experience — is now a phenomenon on both sides of the Atlantic.

Today, I had another wonderful meeting with Cathy Lewis and Kevin Moore of The Number Lab. They are two rare folks — as the conversation I have with them are always about mathematics and centring the purpose of learning it for its own sake — and not some corporate goal of compliance and efficiency that seems to be the fashion now.

Science of Learning? More like Science of Bullshit. Just traditionalists from the 20th century trying to disguise their rotary-dial education philosophy with new branding.

It’s like putting lipstick on a pig.

I taught for 20 years — in environments that varied from poor urban schools to an IB one on Lake Geneva. I never once thought what I was doing was science.

All my energy went into finding the best content and forming the best relationships with my students. There’s no PD for that. You can’t codify curiosity and humanity.

Sorry, Science of Bullshit.

In our conversation today, Kevin Moore offered a sobering reflection that I never considered — mathematics, as crazy as it sounds, must be seen as counter culture.

Corporate Culture vs. Counter Culture

That doing mathematics is only done in the context of overbaked and overpriced pedagogy.

Just like there is corporate rock, there is now a thing as corporate mathematics — and I do mean literally, as companies have gone “all in” on trying to catch the wave of sleep-inducing models of efficiency — whose bottom line is to simply raise test scores.

In a recent blog, NCTM — inadvertently — provided sobering proof that mathematics was indeed dying, if not already dead. In a position paper on Culturally Responsive Mathematics, the word “history” should have appeared several times.

Instead, it appeared zero times.

It’s foolish to think corporations and institutions are going to do anything that isn’t about the bottom line — money.

National Math Conferences have just become events that promote already rich edu celebrities(mostly white) and their pedagogical wares, while the average teacher has to spend the cost of a vacation to attend(with hotel/airfare).

Any hope in revolution lies with smaller conferences.

Everyone seems to be in the business of using mathematics to promote something other than mathematics. As absurb as it sounds, who is actually doing mathematics? Who is actually stuck on the problem because it’s a question they have never seen? You can’t get stuck anymore — that’s not allowed. Efficiency and economy must be pursued.

In other words, some synthetic polymer of mathematics.

Entire History of Mathematics

Everything that is deliriously disorientating about mathematics is being shaded into obscurity. The blog below shows how society has sucked the life out of being lost.

If you can no longer get lost, you are also going to hinder any full idea of curiosity.

Without curiosity, mathematics — or any subject for that matter — has no internal vector/purpose for learning. It’s all for societal validation and to become a good worker bee.

As Gil Scott Heron said over 50 years ago, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” — you will have to take to the streets to see it/feel it.

The same with mathematics. It’s going to be a counter-culture movement in those same streets.

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