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[Xmca-l] Re: MCA Issue 3 article for discussion Re-started
Margaret and Carrie
Thanks for the article. I hope what I write will be of interest.
I am presently a mathematics educator (although retired) and have taught mathematics in all the grades into graduate school and well as teachers of preschool, elementary, and secondary mathematics. What you write about authoring math identities resonates !highly! with my experience.
However, I am unsure what to make of the labeling of neoliberal reform. I see something similar to the young woman you mention at all grade levels including those of graduate school. It seems to have little to do with curricular reform and everything to do with teaching. For example, the Calculus courses you mention are not there to give students a deep understanding of mathematics, but to aid in college acceptance. This, of course, led to parent and student outcry and situation in schools all across the US for high school Calculus (this has been going on for some time) The Calculus AP may have originally been for the purpose of usefully challenging young people, but, in the hands of college admission officers, soon changed into a way to control admission. These courses are usually poorly taught (regardless of where they are taught) because few high school teachers have sufficient training or experience (taking a calculus course does not mean you have the wherewithal to teach it; that takes considerably more knowledge). Math departments do use them for placement, but not because they think students have been well prepared for Calculus.
Let me give an exemplar (smile). A number of years ago I was teaching a freshman English course (I know that sounds peculiar) with a significant slant on social justice. One of my students, who seemed (and acted) quite bright, was having problems completing assignments (and seemed a little dismissive of his peers). Finally, I told him that I was going to give him an F. At that point things became interesting. He told me that he had breezed through high school, scored high on the Calculus AP, received a scholarship, and was placed in the second semester of Calculus. The reason work wasn’t done was that he was failing that course in Calculus and was on the verge of losing his scholarship (especially if I failed him). Well, I, of course, extended deadlines, etc. and became a mentor of sorts for the next 4 years.
All this, as the young woman in your article, pretty much destroyed his confidence/identity and it was not until his junior year that I began to see some slight improvement or, one might say, re-authoring (although the story line had changed considerably; once hoping to be a doctor he is now hoping to be a PA). This is all to the good. However, during his final science course (physics), he decided that he was lacking in geometry and trigonometry and asked for help the summer before and during the relevant semester. I (being retired you have extra time - ha!) did so and found that he was !woefully! lacking relevant skills (this from a student who had scored at the highest level on the Calculus AP).
My second point is, in a sense, complicated. Maxine Green has a variation of this on page 276 of her book “Teacher as Stranger.” She tells the story of a teacher who believes in social justice and citizen participation. He is eager for his students to participate in a moratorium in response to the Vietnamese War. However, he has other convictions. “He does not believe that learning sequences should be whimsically or foolishly interrupted; he thinks classroom activity, because it brings him in contact with his students, contributes measurably to their education. A lost day, as he sees it, might mean a setback for some of his students; missed opportunities for other s… Taking all this in account, he still believes it is more worthwhile to support the peace action than do nothing at all.” This conclusion may seem ‘right’ and it may seem obvious, but, as Greene continues, it is hardly easy. It is also a little more complicated than she makes out. Say I have a strong commitment to social justice (which I do) and say I have a strong commitment to my discipline (which is mathematics). I could skimp on the mathematics and really focus on social justice, but then I run the risk having students as the above who cannot compete within the present education system. I could skimp on the social justice and really focus on the mathematics, but then I have signaled that social justice really isn’t all that important. So I incorporate social justice into my mathematics class. I could do it two ways: (1) use mathematics as a tool to consider issues of social justice (however, if I do this well, this is not teaching mathematics, but teaching social justice) - this is the usual approach of those who do such things (and I admire their attempts) or (2) use an issue of social justice to illustrate a mathematical principle - this is, quite a bit harder and it is easy to imagine somewhat silly lessons (although not entirely) as integrating the distribution of incomes in the US (there is a nice book that sort of does this called "X in the City”) - this is not, in my opinion, properly attending to issues of social justice. Neither of these approaches, in my opinion, give cognizance to the importance of social justice or mathematics (and, of course, I speak as a person who believes both are important). Ball does not help here (nor Foucault or Butler). The only one who comes close is Kierkegaard. He indicates there may be a way out (although it is not cookie-cutter), but most often one comes to despair.
PS. There is also the whole issue of preparing teachers of mathematics to incorporate social justice in their students' learning especially as more and more Schools of Education eliminate substantial course work in social justice from the required curriculum.
> On Nov 12, 2016, at 2:30 PM, Margaret A Eisenhart <firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
> Hello Everyone,
> Carrie and I are newcomers to this list, and we thank you for the
> opportunity to engage with you about our article, “Hollowed Out.” We also
> hope for your patience as we learn to participate in the stream of
> thinking here!
> Given the comments so far, we are intrigued by others’ ideas about the
> link between our theory and our data. On this topic, we would like to
> make clear that we did not intend to suggest that the students were making
> sense of their lives in the same way that we interpreted them through the
> lens of our theory. Our claim is that opportunities and figured worlds are
> resources for identity and that the students' words to us reflected
> perspectives consistent with neoliberalism, with some pretty serious
> implications. Like Phillip White, we are interested in what theories
> others would use to explain the data we presented.
> Like Mike Cole, we are also intrigued by the prospect of “exemplars” we
> might turn to.
> We look forward to hearing your thoughts.
> Margaret Eisenhart