The Future of Mathematics Education Must Be Interdisciplinary, Exploratory, and Revolutionary

Sunil Singh
7 min readJan 17, 2024


Long read alert…lots of links!

Current K to 12 Math Education

Let’s start with all things dead and dying.

If you are in the Back to Basics camp, your views of mathematics education are based primarily on politics and/or a really, really narrow(meaning bad)experience with mathematics — to the point that you think knowing your times tables will get you a job at NASA. Well, not just that, but long division, factoring polynomials, and trig transformations. There, now you are equipped for the space age — of the 60's.

The Back to Basics camp are basically gatekeepers of painful anachronisms of mathematics. They are blinded to the how muted, grey, and uninspiring the mathematics they protect and promote. It’s the kind of mathematics rooted in entrenched classism and overstretched utility. It’s the kind of mathematical view that would be centred in the most unflattering ways in this Alvin Toffler quote.

Keith Devlin is a world-renowned mathematician who was quick to realize the obsolescence of his own learning. The politicians, journalists, and people with far less mathematical knowledge than Devlin, want to jump over each other with the flag of mathematical illiteracy.

It’s the kind of mathematics that made me quit teaching over 10 years ago.

Ironically, I only wrote this six months after Keith Devlin made his even larger argument for irrelevance of what is taught in schools.

But, at least I got paid to suffer. Imagine students? Well, I did. That’s why it became unconscionable — for me — to watch student after student climb that dreary stairwell of math education.

Alienation, anxiety, and trauma. That was the unlit stairwell for many. Bad news. Still is for many. Primarily because myopic and misguided adults have only used mathematics as a tool for compliance and control — and turned it into a cottage industry where boring mathematics is peddled without a hint of irony or guilt.

They haven’t a clue as to what the actual universe of mathematics looks like — and worse, don’t want to. There’s no money in cool math. There is only money in supporting a broken system of benign mathematics.

Not too surprisingly, most of the the kids whose climb were the dreariest were kids from marginalized backgrounds of race and/or socio-economics.

And of course, not to surprisingly, educators who think that memorizing times tables, long division, and “standard” algorithms is the bedrock of mathematics — all while being tested — tend to belong to an old guard of declining relevance. They must not have liked the recent Guardian article about the PISA scores.

It’s always been about power and politics and bemoaning falling of standardized test scores. Our students have been the been most tested/analyzed group in history. The data collection has only been for bureaucratic adults. The harm this has done to the learning of mathematics is incomprehensible.

Both my kids used to love math. Both hate it now. As they should, as they complete their bleak ascent to more disconnected and disinteresting mathematics. At one time, Aidan wanted to make his own math videos.

Aidan used to love math because it was interesting, not because it was useful. I wrote this blog a year before he made this video.

I don’t know. Maybe kids hate math. Maybe kids hate writing tests. Maybe kids hate school. But sure, let’s analyze this inert data to mine priorities that center everything but the actual awe, wonder, joy, and beauty of mathematics.

I don’t know. Maybe we should talk to them? Maybe we should have them as partners in education? What a ridiculous notion, right? Conferring with kids about what is best for them?

Only adults know what is best for them. That’s been the tune in math education. It still is. Don’t be fooled. Adults in education generally want what’s best for them — first. Students are conflated superficially into that priority.

Over-tested. Over-analyzed. Over-assessed. Students have always been priority number two. Guess what, actual rich, challenging, and interesting mathematics has been of lesser priority.

Students and mathematics, reduced to understudies in their own play.

The Venn diagram of the Back to Basics and the “No” in the poll below just might be one big red dot of ignorance.

Hindu-Arabic Upper Left. Eastern Arabic Lower Right
Back To History Mathematics

Future K to 12 Mathematics

Education is generally a slow moving conservative beast. It also tends to be rather insular, being impervious sometimes to the bigger picture of global health and welfare. Math education, in terms of cramming generally boring content into the K to 12 years and going at a speed which is in conflict to the entire SLOW, thematic development of the subject itself, is completely out of step with needing a healthier pace.

Why Does The World Need This And Not Math Education?

Do you see words like rehumanizing, joy, wonder, beauty, and illumination being associated with mathematics in education? No. You see words like proficiency, agency, and fluency. And, even with fluency — very important — math education tends to fall short.

There are five pillars of fluency.

Factual, Procedural, Conceptual, Historical, and Conceptual.

If we truly want our students speaking the language/dialects of mathematics — the language of the universe — the definition of fluency cannot be dictated by the current, myopic view of mathematics.

Historical fluency is understanding knowing — having curiosity for — the history of mathematics. A larger and more powerful idea of equity is pre-installed here. Contemporary fluency is knowing what is happening in the world of mathematics today? What problems/proofs are the most important, and what impact could their solutions have on the planet.

Which leads into the idea that mathematics must move towards being more of an interdisciplinary subject that goes beyond STEAM, and also weaves in music and literature.

Slowing down. Expanding our lens on the mathematics through time and space. We need to move in the opposite direction of speed and shallowness in mathematics — and ensure that experience is accessible, equitable, and scalable for all our students.

In August of last year, the universe threw me a curve ball to possibly attend to these large, macro ideas of mathematics education.

Through some miraculous circumstances of connecting with a person named Atticus Lyon through LinkedIn(he loved my first book, Pi of Life: The Hidden Happiness of Mathematics), I am now in a space to help rebuild, reimagine, repurpose, and rehumanize mathematics — something which K to 12 mathematics education around the world has either given up on or never conceived to be worthwhile/achievable/sustainable goals.

We just submitted an idea for a Math Retreat in Sardinia this summer to the Italian government. Here is what was sent. We hope to hear final approval very soon…

I turn 60 this Spring. Most people my age have retired or are coasting. For me, the universe is saying things are just beginning. It hasn’t been an easy path. Quitting teaching. Financially ruined by a fire to my math business(The Right Angle) in 2015. Being a minority and speaking about dissonant topics like “romance and mathematics”.

But, I never compromised. I never yielded to talking about things which were in vogue or financially alluring. Whatever the definition of the edu-celebrity is, I am the exact opposite.

I have talked about mathematics revolution my entire teaching career. I never thought I would see the day that I might participate in one that is 100% aligned to my deepest belief about the subject.

For me, it all comes down to the images below. If math education isn’t being refracted through these symbolic lenses, I want no part.

We Are Currently Creating Clever Vandals In Mathematics Education
Nurture them, protect them and let them be free, and they will change the world

Mathematics also needs the same protection, nurturing, and freedom…