Thursday, 30 June 2011

Should math be taught in schools?

(Cross-posted at NewAPPS.)

I came across a funny but disturbing video today, via Language Log. The background context is the fact that one of the questions contestants had to answer at the Miss USA pageant earlier this month was whether evolution should be taught in schools. We are all familiar with the heated debates on this topic in the US (especially after the whole Synthese drama...), so from a societal point of view it is not an entirely absurd question to be asked in this context. However, more broadly speaking, to wonder whether evolution (the theory which arguably unifies all fields of research in biology) should be taught in schools is as absurd as wondering whether math should be taught in schools. So someone came up with this video to illustrate the analogy:

It's *very* funny, no doubt about that, but also somewhat disturbing. There are in particular all kinds of gender dimensions worth emphasizing -- at some point, one of the 'contestants' says that math should be taught in schools, "but not to women". Sounds absurd, but if you recall that not that long ago speaking Barbie dolls had 'Math is so hard!' as one of their pre-recorded statements, it's clear that this is not coming out of nowhere. (Of course, the problem also lies with the very concept of beauty queens and beauty contests, but let's not get started.)

Anyway, I guess the bottom line is that we should be happy that, unlike biologists, mathematicians and philosophers of mathematics do not need to defend the very idea of teaching math in schools. And of course, yay for Miss Vermont!

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