I have recently read some posts that don’t necessarily have a common theme uniting them, except that they all grabbed my attention. Without further ado, here’s a little bit about a few of them.
“What we mean when we say ‘Anyone can do math’”
The post on the Math for Love blog makes suggestions about what the phrase “Anyone can do math” might actually mean (including “Everyone is capable of mathematical literacy…Everyone deserves to see some beautiful ideas of mathematics” and “A great mathematician can come from anywhere”).
“This is what we have to mean when we insist that anyone can do math. For it to be more than an empty platitude, or a blatant falsehood, we have to be precise,” the post notes.
“For People Of Color, Succeeding In Academia Is A Political Statement”
This post on the e-Mentoring Network blog for the AMS was written by Melissa Gutierrez Gonzalez, a junior mathematics and philosophy student at Occidental College in Los Angeles, who is concurrently enrolled at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
She wrote about what her mother told her before she left for college:
“Vas a la escuela para demostrar que los mexicanos no solo están aquí para limpiar casas o servir como mano de obra, y también para demostrar que las mujeres no solo sirven para casarse y tener hijos.
[Translation: You go to school to show that Mexicans are not only here to clean houses or serve as labor, and also to show that women not only serve to marry and have children].”
She then wrote about pressure she has faced “to speak in cogent and intelligent dialogue whenever I opened my mouth in my discussion-based seminars (not because I wanted to seem like an intelligent person, but an intelligent Mexican). I couldn’t make a mistake, because if I did, what would others think of Mexicans?” She also wrote about the minority tax and the responses she has received when she has tried to talk with her peers about her experiences.
“It’s Not a Competition…But We’re Still Ahead”
On the PhD + epsilon blog for the AMS, Katherine Thompson draws on her experience writing for Who Wants to be a Mathematician and MATHCOUNTS, as well as her personal experience with competition (in classical piano) to explore some of the impacts math competitions can have on young competitors.
While Thompson noted the potential for particiants to become discouraged by low competition scores, especially for students who “are putting in the time to prepare, and think they’re really good at math, and they’re being TOLD they’re really good at math, and realistically they probably legitimately are good at math” but then receive a low score, she also discusses the importance of these competitions for students who are hungry for a challenge.
She summarizes what one of her friends told her about why he writes for math competitions:
“Smart kids first need to be challenged, among other reasons so they don’t get bored and move on to a subject other than math. Realistically, they are in part flocking to competitions because their curiosities aren’t piqued from their standard curriculum and we as a mathematical community don’t want to suffer that loss of talent. Prepping for these competitions, which start with pedestrian topics but take them in remarkably creative directions, addresses that. But just as crucially, these smart kids are with VERY few exceptions sincerely and severely lacking in humility…competitions can show them they still have something left to learn.”
While you’re on the PhD + epsilon blog, consider reading Thompson’s recent post about extra credit in math courses, including the complications surrounding giving extra credit and the different roles extra credit can play in math departments.
In other news for AMS blogs, there are a couple of new things I encourage you to check out, if you haven’t already. Did you read Brian Katz’s post about changes that will be happening to the inclusion/exclusion blog? He was recently named as Editor-in-Chief of that blog, a position that was formerly held by Adriana Salerno. (Salerno was the blog’s founding EIC.) Also, have you visited the new Living Proof blog yet? I’m excited to read upcoming posts on that blog!