Bending Genre for Modern Needs

Listening to a podcast recently, I heard an advertisement for a “podcast movie” as the first in a new genre. I’m still not certain what this means, but I think it already exists as a radio play. [Aside: I’m loving the audio-book of The Sandman!] This got me thinking about how folks are bending genre and format to meet our modern needs.

Here are three examples that you should read. You should read them because of their content related to mathematics and in/justice, but while reading them, I hope you also appreciate them for the ways they bend genre to achieve their goals. I’ll describe each briefly.


(1) “Everything is Garbage, Now What?”, a live Twitter talk by Piper H

Before starting, Piper estimated that this would have been about a 30 minute talk if it were done live with voices. It turned into more than an hour of tweetstorm fire about how racism is built into our mathematical institutions and the thin stories some of us use to ignore the racism and other forms of systemic oppression.

Tweetstorms and AMAs (ask me anythings) already exist, but conceiving of this as a live talk on Twitter allowed the audience to engage (much like the best feature of Zoom: the chat) while also creating a public record that can be followed in time of the various ways that people are engaging with Piper’s points.

As many others have pointed out: this is required reading.


(2) An open letter “On the value of Math, LGBTQ+ issues, BYU, and the AMS” by Chad Topaz

About a year ago, Chad “broke up” with the AMS in part based on their inaction on issues of the well-being of LGBTQ+ folks in and through mathematics. This year’s AMS Lecture on Education is from a scholar at BYU, a school where students are explicitly not allowed to admit being LGBTQ+. Chad’s point is that this choice is part of a pattern of choices that communicates that it’s OK to uplift math contexts in which queer folks (and others!) are not safe.

My own experiences with discussions about education hosted by the AMS are alienating for other reasons as well. Education is a discipline of its own, with at least as much expertise and research work required as other forms of mathematics. But in these AMS spaces, people (who are loud and get centered) regularly tell me that anyone with education training cannot be trusted, that evidence-based practices are not only trivial fads but are mysteriously harmful to students, and broadly that caring about teaching will cause a faculty member to be a worse scholar. As a result, even in the more overtly reasonable conversations, in my experience, the AMS lifts up people who are trained in proving or modeling when talking about teaching to the exclusion of people who are trained in education, sometimes lifting them up for having reinvented an idea that is a well-known, evidence-based practice in other communities (and as a result often giving white men credit for “discovering” ideas they really learned from others). I’m proud to know lots of people who are trained in proofs and models who are doing the work to learn about all dimensions of teaching, but it will likely be years before I can expect this to be the norm in some spaces.

I like that Chad’s open letter is more dynamic than many other open letters because of the nature of Twitter, allowing more direct engagement with the recipient, which happened here. I hope the speaker takes up Chad’s ideas about how to use the invitation to address some of these issues.


(3) A historical analysis of “SOHCAHTOA” by Michael Barany

As many readers will likely know, a video of a high school math teacher mocking Native American cultures in an attempt to “teach” the trigonometric mnemonic SOHCAHTOA recently came to light. In this thread, Michael Barany gives a historical analysis of this racist trope in math classrooms and curricula in the context of the political economy of mathematics education.

Historical analysis of primary sources has existed for far longer than social media, but I appreciated two aspects of this being formatted as a thread. First, the format allowed me to engage more directly and easily with the primary sources that were supporting the analysis. And second, as with the other threads in this post, this format allowed for more engagement from readers, such as another scholar pushing Barany to attend more directly to the racial dimensions of this phenomenon.


Homework: Read these threads, use what you learn to make math spaces better, and bend some genres along the way if it helps.


[I adapted the featured image from the Twitter logo, giving it a cute purple sweater vest and jaunty top hat.]

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