On October 7, The Global Math Project kicked off its annual week of promoting mathematics with a symposium on the campus of Santa Clara University. This dynamic work consists of a global community of mathematics teachers and supporters who want all learners across the globe to experience joy and wonder in school-relevant mathematics. Sponsors of this effort include – Mo Math National Math Museum, The American Institute of Mathematics, the Julia Robinson Math Festival, and The AIMS Center for Math and Science Education. It was an especially great honor to be among the presenters this year. As I considered what to share with the audience, I was compelled to share both my journey as a mathematics educator and issue a call for more equality, diversity, arts, and a broader perspective in the potential of mathematics.
Equality and Diversity
If you Google the word “mathematician” you will find, like I did, that there is a substantial gender bias. This mirrors the work done with young children when asked what a scientist might look like. Most children said a scientist was a man with crazy white hair, glasses, and a white lab coat (Mehmet Buldu, 2006). A description like this may seem comical at first, but it can be actually quite damaging to young girls. If girls do not see themselves in these potential careers, they will construct an attitude and belief that builds barriers for future endeavors. Women are underrepresented in mathematical fields as well as in STEM fields where math is critical. Mathematics needs to embrace equality so that ½ the human race is not excluded.
In conjunction with equality, I also presented a call for mathematics to embrace diversity.
Growing up, I never learned about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. These amazing women were responsible for doing calculations that no one else in the space program could do. I often wonder about the missed potential of learning about these women who used mathematics to get men into space and did so under discriminatory policies and procedures. Have we made progress? Have we created ”…positive learning opportunities for all students in the classroom [this] means that we address issues of culture, ethnicity, race, class, gender, and patriarchy, and we do so in authentic ways”?(Borrero et al., 2016,p. 28). Mathematics must embrace the diversity of every race, language, culture, and religion. The reality is that “…by 2020, more than 50% of the U.S. public school population will be classified as students of color…” (Ball, 2009,p. 46). Updating the education system to the 21st century must include promoting diversity. The field of mathematics needs to be inclusive and recognize that each of us has a unique and valuable perspective.
The Global Math Project and The AIMS Center share a desire to change the narrative of math education. I am committed to doing whatever I can, and I hope many of you will join me in this commitment. Mathematics isn’t a competition, it’s a collaboration, and the future of humanity depends on our ability to work together. You are what mathematics needs, the field needs your perspective, your frame of reference, your ideas, your imagination, the joy you bring to the math world. If I asked you “What does a mathematician look like?” would you picture yourself? I hope from now on you will. Together the picture of mathematics is more beautiful, more colorful, and together we can ensure that no one is left out.
Here is the recording of my full talk at the Global Math Symposium.
Ball, Arnetha F. (2009). Toward a Theory of Generative Change in Culturally and Linguistically Complex Classrooms. American Educational Research Journal, 46(1), 45-72.
Borrero, Noah E., Flores, Esther, & De La Cruz, Gabriel. (2016). Developing and Enacting Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Voices of New Teachers of Color. Equity & Excellence in Education, 49(1), 27-40.
Mehmet Buldu (2006) Young children’s perceptions of scientists: a preliminary study, Educational Research, 48:1, 121-132.