The title for this post came from something which was almost a throw-away comment I made on #mathchat on 11th October. I was basically annoyed at the discrepancy of tolerance levels in relation to homosexuality as opposed to being bad at mathematics. Why should other people’s sexual preference be something that needs to be stated publicly to gain tolerance or acceptance? Why should anyone take pride in publicly stating that they are bad at mathematics? We need to be clear about what we are tolerating and what we are accepting, and what should be tolerated and what should be accepted.
As a teacher, I find it painful when “famous people with lots of money” start opening their mouths and spouting forth about education, because most of their experience comes from having been at school, if they actually managed to get the diploma/qualification required/expected of them. I find it more painful when “elected officials” start opening their mouths and spouting forth about education, because most of their experience comes from having been at school and, probably, university, without actually having taught anything in their lives, but with a very clear idea about what should be taught and how it should be done. You can find your own examples, but you won’t go far wrong if you choose Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, Michael Gove and Nick Gibb (hmm, an accountant as minister for schools…).
Pizza Hut in the US ran an outrageous commercial that it seems was withdrawn by pressure from social media, but the initial perception was misguided:
Hey folks, Chris Fuller, Director of PR for Pizza Hut here. I wanted to let you know that we hear you loud and clear. In fact, my wife is a math curriculum specialist, so this topic hits close to home. We, of course, meant no ill will with the ad. It was meant to be playful and funny around the easy value our new $8, $10 and $12 pricing provides. More than a week ago we pulled the ad and we are replacing it with an entirely different theme. We sincerely apologize for any unitended [sic] offense.
The fact is, phrases like: “My wife is a math curriculum specialist,” and “We, of course, meant no ill will,” and “It was meant to be playful and funny,” are as empty as “Some of my best friends are black/gay/women…”. The damage has been done, and it was clearly done years ago if the people who put this ad together thought they were being “playful and funny” about something that others have genuine fears about.
There are still perceptions that maths is boring or somehow getting all the funding, which seem to go uncommented on… Sir Ken Robinson (the ‘creativity expert’) gave a 55 minute speech at the RSA. It is a great pity that the RSAnimate’s edited extracts video (Changing Education Paradigms) chose to visualize maths as boring, and maths and science as being the subjects that were separated out, as well as editing or reframing Sir Ken’s original speech – why not geography, history, English, art, music…? I generally admire the work that RSAnimate produces, but it is all the more ironic that Sir Ken actually spoke about “taking certain ideas for granted” about 7 minutes into his speech at the RSA…
It’s the things we take for granted that we need to identify and question. (Sir Ken Robinson)
Maybe the reason so much funding for the Arts has been cut is because ‘ordinary people’ do not see piles of bricks, or cows cut in half, or unmade beds as being art. Why does so much money get spent on soccer rather than archery or bowls…? How does a respected composer become an enfant terrible at the age of 60? Why is there a Nobel Prize for Economics but none for Mathematics or Dance or ..? The main challenge is for those of us at the teaching edges of our subjects to impart some of the passion and love we feel towards them, so that the general public can get back in touch with what they are really about, instead of living with perceptions from the past. There is science and mathematics in the arts, just as there is beauty and creativity in mathematics and science.
So, let us take pride in what mathematics, science and art have given us together, in synergy, because we do better when we collaborate and value everyone’s works and creations equally:
Dedicated to the memory of Benoit Mandelbrot who showed us that there is no such thing as smooth…