this whole conversation started when ben blum-smith read me the preface of mariana cook's new book of photographs of mathematicians:
"Mathematicians are exception. They are not like everyone else. They may look like the rest of us, but they are not the same. For starters, most of them are a great deal smarter."
i totally nodded right along with him reading! what is that? confession: i walk around thinking that my math friends ben and justin and all these people are just smarter, more capable, better than i am.
and the thing is, it doesn't matter if that's true. the thought that it is, the possibility that it is, is so debilitating that i have felt (in the last three weeks!) that i should stop teaching, despite the fact that i know i'm doing this about as well as people do it and the people that have seen me do it would hate to see me stop. or whatever, even if i was bad at it, i won't get better if i think i'm just not smart like mathematicians are smart. or whatever. the problem is the very idea that true hierarchy exists. the notion of hierarchy is limiting because then some people are just smarter, and then the thought "i am one of them" or "i am not one of them" are equally problematic.
why do we (or a big portion of the general we) see mathematicians as different? and how is it affecting my students? kids (plus me and unapologetic too, it seems) are walking around feeling defined by either having smarts or a lack of them. i question the truth of these ideas in the first place, but definitely the usefulness of these beliefs when kids get attached to these self-definitions. i wonder how to keep the identity question balls up in the air during high school, rather than supporting kids in pinning themselves down.
i'm proposing that ALL kids can feel empowered and smart, not because all kids are the same, but because kids aren't all one thing. i want to give kids opportunities to perceive themselves in different roles so that they don't ever feel limited, in anything. i want my kids to be able to bite into the experience of success (which will look different for different kids) and struggle (a very useful thing for everybody to know how to work through). i want them to see each other as resources, sometimes surprising and unexpected. i want anyone in the room to be able to be the one that has the insight, no matter what has happened in their pasts.
good luck, right?
well i'm trying.
seriously, big thanks to you big debaters out there. i love it.