When I co-wrote Math Recess several years back with Dr. Chris Brownell, I naively envisioned an idyllic math education world where the actual quality of the mathematics would be celebrated and championed. Some fantasy world like Valinor in Lord of The Things that I was sailing towards.
There is no hyperbole in this next statement, as I have said it consistently for the better part of a decade. The mathematics that sits in math education is not part of the Undying Lands. Quite the opposite. It sits in slow death in what could only be logically considered the grim and barren world of Mordor.
In spite of a lengthy track record of students seeing mathematics as anything but alive — generally speaking, it has little past, present, or future stories in our classrooms. So, if it has no past history or no present endeavours, then to declare it a dead subject is not an exaggeration.
Throw in boredom with the subject and its associated alienation from thousands of students— which is a precursor to math anxiety — death of interest, death of curiosity, and death of deeper understanding is all that will await most of our students.
It awaited both my kids. In spite of my son Aidan having a natural love of arithmetic and my daughter Raya being consumed by prime numbers, both were living on borrowed time. I knew their fate. They didn’t.
By high school, I knew that they would hate math.
As such it was indeed naive of me to think that math education would ever pivot away from prioritizing teacher-facing pedagogy, with meaningless buzzwords and dehumanizing roadmaps for learning mathematics.
Even the discussion of mathematical fluency is rigid and boring. Oh, it’s all the rage now — with teachers — but it’s wholly uninspiring and limiting as to what fluency could mean. What about about historical fluency? Is that not important? What about fluency of curiosity? Sounds abstract, but without it, mathematics is condemned to only be a tool of compliance and control. Curiosity is the lifeblood and engine for everything.
As such, The Science of Math movement is a one way shuttle to Mount Doom in Mordor.
Mathematics is dead. If you don’t think it is, you are conflating pedagogical trends with mathematics.
It’s time to build a ship and try to sail to a more beautiful, hopeful, charismatic, whimsical, joyful, and magical world of mathematics. Not because we need to imagine mathematics like that. It’s already all that.
It’s because we have to imagine ourselves to be like mathematics…