Silence is Violence: How The Math Education Community Chose To Ignore The Harassment of Jo Boaler

Sunil Singh
3 min readOct 8, 2023

I purposely chose an image for the blog thumbnail that celebrates the very best of the mathematical and educational mind of my friend, Jo Boaler. It’s from her visit to the Senpaq’cin School, a First Nation school in Canada, to work with teachers and students.

I also chose it for the title, “The Stories We Tell”. And, for the past few years, the stories that some people have been sharing about Jo Boaler have not only been false, but venomous to a degree that made me question about even belonging to the sometimes toxic space of mathematics education.

I was actually lucky to see the whole presentation as part of her keynote at CMC-Central in 2023. It was absolutely beautiful, filled with rich mathematical reflections from the Indigenous community. It’s hard to believe only a few days before, she was in no mental or emotional condition to deliver the keynote.

She was supposed to give the opening keynote on Friday. She gave it on Saturday instead. She messaged me the day before with a very long message on Twitter. She was shattered that attacks against her had been renewed by the usual suspects — white, male professors — about the California Math Framework.

I told her I would switch, if that would help — and honesty, I didn’t think it would. But, she was grateful to have one extra day to process the relentless attacks, death threats, and rape threats — including that of her daughters.

If you are hearing those details for the first time, I am not going to apologize for sharing them. I actually have seen photos of those threats.

And of course, there was the whole false fiasco of her calling the police on Jelani Nelson.

False.

That word needs its own sentence. It’s been 18 months since Nelson leveled his unsubstantiated claim against Jo Boaler. He still references it today, but somehow conveniently neglects to mention her name anymore. That’s because after police investigation, no evidence to suggest that Boaler did such a thing. Regrettably, more harassment and name-calling came Boaler’s way.

It finally took this article to begin to set the record straight about Jo Boaler’s vision for mathematics and her outstanding character — especially in working with marginalized communities.

Very few math educators publicly came out to defend Jo Boaler. That wasn’t a surprise. Math education is a competitive space, riddled with ego and unbridled celebration of the celebrity culture. Nobody wants to risk bringing controversy into their sterilized space.

I didn’t flinch in my first blog defending Jo Boaler, and I am not flinching again. I really don’t care if this alienates me from the camps that have put themselves on the side being anti-CMF — almost all are professors with ZERO background in K to 12 mathematics education.

They are also trumpeting classist, anachronisms for learning mathematics. They all immediately site test scores and college entrance preparation.

That’s all they see mathematics for. They only see mathematics as being valuable for a trespass to status, high paying jobs, and college admission. That’s not very inclusive. And, not to ironically, they have also made up lies about the CMF somehow being water-down mathematics.

Here is Jo Boaler giving detailed description of what is actually inside of it.

If you want to attack Jo Boaler, then attack me. If you choose to attack me, also be prepared to do battle on the field of mathematics — and giving that opportunity to all students.

That’s my track record. That’s Jo Boaler’s track record.

I will stand by that. And, I will most definitely stand by my friend — especially when the attacks on her are antipodal to the essence of her character and contributions to mathematics education.

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