Mathematics is often touted as The Universal Language. Supposedly, despite the many different symbols, definitions, notations, and conventions, the core principles of mathematics transcend cultural, societal, and even terrestrial differences. However, a language requires someone to speak it. And here, we find our universal language is not quite the same for everyone.
Coming into this week’s reading, I’ve been aware of the disparities for women in STEM. It exists, and there are multiple aspects to the problem. Personally, it’s just intiutive for me to think that equality is good. “Equal pay for equal work.” That just seems so obvious me. However, for me, I’ve always thought of striving for equality for equality’s sake. What I mean by that, equality is a right, and discrimination is bad. We should be more diverse in STEM, because everyone should have the opportunity to enter this field. It’s a question about morality and fairness.
Now, discrimination and racism can be a detriment to a student’s learning experience (and I will discuss that later). However first, one of the readings this week challenged my viewpoint that diversity is just a moral prerogative. The article, How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, speaks to the benefit of diversity in problem solving. When inter-disciplinary teams and experiences lead to innovative solutions, why do we not place the same importance in social diversity? I truly have never thought about this. Homogeneity excourages complacency. Novel ideas and solutions come about through constant questioning, and I never considered that diversity can have an impact on that.
In one of our additional readings, Whistling Vivaldi, Steele discussed the challenges women face in mathematics, as well as his attempts to understand what exactly is the cause. I’ve also been curious to find a reason for the disparities (and there are many). It’s important to acknowledge issues like harrassment. Part of me had some gut feeling that there was some gender biases that add extra obstacles for women in STEM. I feel like this chapter of his book really hit the tip of the ice berg. Without the presence of directly prejudiced people, Steele found that women can still feel negative consquences of gender biases. In addition, the effort to fight that stigma, itself, can hinder their ability to achieve. In my opinion, this really hits the nail on the head.
In terms of the classroom, how do we fight against this societal pressure? I feel like we can try to remove the stigma of “not understanding” material. Personally, I have times where I hadnot grasped subjects at first glance. When I don’t understand, I feel a stigma of asking questions in front of my peers during class. “I don’t want to seem dumb in front of others.” However, that doesn’t help me learn; it does the opposite. That pressure of trying to prove to others (or to society) of your abilities, while it affects many more women in mathematics, it is not a unique feeling. We should strive to lower that pressure among our students in mathematics. Perhaps change the notion that only people who don’t know the material go to office hours.
Now, gender disparities in mathematics are not the only challenge that we face in our field. After some thought, I was starting to think about how language plays a part as well. Despite how we always think of math as transcending language, when it comes to expressing ideas to others, we have to use words in some way. For a direct example, think about foreign students who take proof courses. Is it more difficult for students to learn proof structure when they have to simultaneously learn English sentence structure, and grammer? For those new to proofs, those lexical aspects are absolutely required to learn how to express mathematical aspects . Native speakers have the luxury to focus entirely on the proofs, while non-native speaks have an additional handicap. This was a small thought of mine, but it would be interesting to explore the challenges to mathematics due to language barriers. Have there been major advances that took years to confirm because of difficulties in translation of mathematical papers?
Overall, I feel like Inclusive Pedagogy is much more relevant to mathematics than I initially had thought.