The Political Necessity of Mathematical Education

I touched upon this briefly in my previous post, but I’m going to expound upon it at greater length here: those who are knowledgeable in mathematics have an inherently privileged knowledge of the way that civilization works.

Now, this is not of itself new knowledge. But usually, when people bring this up as a means of encouraging people to learn math, they do so under the implicit neoliberal assumption that people should learn math in order to get a higher-paying job. That is not my aim here.

Rather, I’m directing this message towards (my fellow) discontents with the present dominant political ideology. My point is not that people should learn math in order to assimilate themselves into the economic elite: my point is that the elite (or the employees of the elite)’s relative knowledge of mathematics is one of their tools of control.

Now, I sincerely, sincerely doubt that there is any conscious drive on the part of us mathematically literate people to discourage others from joining our ranks*; but I do believe that if people are genuinely interested in changing the power structure, then encouraging public numeracy is every bit as important today as encouraging public literacy was in the eighteenth century.

One can not realistically hope to change society if one is incapable of understanding the economy in detail, cannot realistically gage the effect that a change in policy is liable to have on demographics, and is incapable of effectively discerning genuine scientific findings from pseudoscience. Activism undertaken without a firm grounding in math (and more particularly, in science) can be misguided, useless or even dangerous, and easily co-opted by cynics to their own benefit.

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*At least not on the societal scale; however, I strongly suspect that most of the whole “women are bad at math” stereotype is ultimately rooted in the fact that women, historically, were not in charge of family finances.

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About thevenerablecorvex

I have the heart of a poet, the brain of a theoretical physicist, and the wingspan of an albatross. I am also notable for my humility.
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6 Responses to The Political Necessity of Mathematical Education

  1. Pingback: The Political Necessity of Mathematical Education | CrazyQueerClassicist

  2. Lindsay says:

    I strongly suspect that most of the whole “women are bad at math” stereotype is ultimately rooted in the fact that women, historically, were not in charge of family finances.

    That’s a very interesting thought! (I guess I had thought it came down to justifying our exclusion from the professions. “Women can’t do math” would serve to keep women out of engineering, architecture*, or the sciences; “Women aren’t rational”/”Never argue with a woman” would serve to keep us out of law; “Women can’t handle the sight of blood” would serve to keep us out of medicine. And, of course, “God is male”/”Eve sinned” serves to keep us out of the clergy.)

    My own family serves as a curious counterexample, though: my mom is probably the least numerate of us — she is certainly the one who had the fewest math classes and stopped at the lowest level — and often makes fun of herself for being dumb, but she has always been in charge of the family finances and the one who keeps all the accounts.

    *I assume they do math. There’s got to be some trig involved, right?

  3. Lindsay says:

    Also, this isn’t directly relevant, but I thought you would like it. I know I did.

    Queered Science: Why Social Justice and STEM Fields Should Hang Out More Often

  4. n8chz says:

    To quote Rheta Rubenstein* ‘Make mathematics a pump, not a filter.’

    * my high school math teacher.

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