Affirming the “Un-fixing” of the roles in Mathematics

So after nine, long hard years, I am finally at a point where I am proud to say, “I’m finished!”  Woo-hoo and hurrah, tonight I will submit my dissertation electronically and you can call me Dr.  Reading over my work has been probably one of the most fulfilling acts of my professional life, as was defending my dissertation last week.  I can’t believe how fun it actually was – too true.  When you are passionate about a topic, it never gets old. Then, just today my advisor sends me an article that was published in the Harvard Education Letter titled, “Changing the Face of Math”which strangely sounds so much like what I’ve been working on for so long.  It talks about the current state of the way students create identities in mathematics in the U.S. and how this is detrimental to their beliefs about what they can do and be in the mathematics classroom and beyond.  Sadly, as high school teachers, half of our job is undoing the mathematical identity that the system has put in place all the years before they have come to us. In my dissertation, I wrote about not only this identity question but the difficulty in how American society has such a gendered, dichotomous view of mathematics that even those of us who attempt to move past the stereotypes because of our love of mathematics end up with difficult situations to work against.  For some, it is so difficult that we end up giving up and choosing the easier path – the girl who loves physics but choose biological engineering because she feels like she belongs there.  Or the young woman who goes to college to be a math major, but ends up in International communications because the classes were not taught in a way that worked for her learning style.  Or the weak female mathematics student who doesn’t even consider taking another math class in college because of the negative view of her abilities years ago. In this article they say,

“Math education experts say we’re in crisis and that traditional approaches of treating math like a cold-blooded subject amid the warm and engaging world of K–12 schooling are a big part of the problem. Narrow cultural beliefs about what math success looks like, who can be good at it, and what it’s used for are driving students to approach the subject with timidity—or not at all.”

Which was so affirming because it was the major educational research question that motivated my dissertation!  I love it.  Allowing all underrepresented students, not just girls to find ways to change the way they view themselves as math students by changing the way we teach mathematics would be revolutionary, and so many people are doing it.  I am proud to be a part of this movement to “unfix” the gendered, dominant, presumed ways of mathematics learning and open it up to more subjective, creative and collaborative thinking processes. It’s a great time to be a revolutionary!

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