Does There Exist a Sensible Australian Maths Ed Academic?

Yes, the question is rhetorical, but it is not just rhetorical.

A couple months ago, Greg Ashman asked Twitter a more specific version of this question:

[W]ho are the education academics in Australia who specialise in mathematics teaching and who advocate for explicit teaching, times tables etc.?

Ashman has a decently large following, but the replies to his question were tellingly non-existent. The only specific people suggested were the very non-Australian Jim Milgram, a hard core Stanford mathematician who took time off to wallop Jo Boaler, and Stephen Norton, a Griffith University education academic who appears solid and thoughtful, and barely visible. Anyone else?

Ashman clearly seems to doubt it. After an amusingly inflammatory tweet, Ashman wrote in some detail why he thinks so little of so much maths ed research. And, to pretty much clinch the case for the They Don’t Exist side, we have the word of Professor Catherine Attard.

Professor Attard is an education academic at Western Sydney University, and is a member of AMSI’s Advisory Panel. Professor Attard is also currently president of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia, the professional body for Australian maths ed academics, through which she also occupies MERGA’s seat on the NCMS. MERGA, of course, was one of the signers of the idiotic joint statement pre-supporting the draft mathematics curriculum.

A few weeks ago, after AMSI traitored the joint statement and called for a halt of the current curriculum review process, the Sydney Morning Herald published a tendentious article, reporting that “maths experts” were still on board with the draft changes to the curriculum. We hope to soon write directly about this very silly article, but the point here is that Professor Attard was one of the quoted “maths experts”.

Ignoring Professor Attard’s (notably tepid) support for the draft curriculum, the article quotes her on the opinion of MERGA’s members:

  “I haven’t been contacted by any of [MERGA’s] members who are particularly concerned about anything [in the draft curriculum].”

There is no reason to doubt that Professor Attard is telling the truth. What, then, does her truth tell us?

It would appear that not a single MERGA member was sufficiently “concerned” to raise the draft curriculum with MERGA’s president. It seems that not a single maths ed academic was sufficiently horrified by the objective awfulness of the draft curriculum to raise the alarm through their professional body. Not one.

And there, it seems, in a nutshell, you have Australian Mathematics Education.

12 Replies to “Does There Exist a Sensible Australian Maths Ed Academic?”

  1. Yes… but, consider this. Maths in Australia is already small, Maths Ed is even smaller. If it is hard professionally for mathematicians to speak out for fear of their career prospects, imagine how it would be for a Maths Ed academic to do so.

    I would make a slightly altered version of your claim: there does not exist a sensible Maths Ed academic in a leadership position.

    I agree that this is a terrible state of affairs. I don’t know how to fix it.

    1. Glen, I don’t buy it.

      I agree that the criticism is most directly applicable to the maths Ed leadership. I also understand that not all people speak out, whatever they think and however free they feel to speak. But, Jesus, this is not China. Don’t overplay it. You’re really arguing there’s a non-trivial number of concerned but cowed maths Ed academics who kept silent out of fear? I seriously doubt it.

      As far as I am aware, not one maths Ed academic has spoken up publicly to criticise the draft. According to Attard, not one has raised “concern” through MERGA. Not a single person. About a draft curriculum that appalling.

      It is absurd to suggest this is just a leadership issue. It is a cult issue. Sure, I’m willing to believe there’s a maths Ed academic here or there who has unexpressed concerns. But I’ll bet they’re few and far between, if they exist at all. And seriously, if you’re a non-cult maths Ed academic and you stay silent on this shit, what would make you speak up? What is your purpose? If you exist.

      Glen, if you have a counterexample to the universality of the cult, feel free to name them. I know of no one except, it seems, the semi-mythical Norton.

      1. Few and far between is what I guess is correct as well.

        I agree that there is a massive cult(ural) issue with maths Ed.

        I agree that some should speak out. But I understand the fear. Those looking for a stable income, who need to satisfy one of twelve people (if they want to work in Australia, which seems like the only option at the moment), and all twelve have these views…. yes, I understand keeping quiet. At least until you are established.

        Few and far between though.

          1. I think the relevant point is that I *won’t* name one (sorry). If they want to be known they should comment (or write to you). (I’m pretty sure they are reading along.)

                1. Exactly how many do you claim exist? I’m not asking how many you conjecture. How many, from your personal knowledge, are actively (if silently) hostile to the cult?

                  1. I know of two. Speaking about personal knowledge, I was at a maths ed conference about 6 years ago, and there was a group with similar sentiment. Unfortunately I myself was not who I am today, and I don’t know any of their names.

                    I mention that because I often think back to this, especially in the context of this discussion.

  2. I know a couple of sensible academics in mathematics education. The two that come to mind have taught in schools and in university; both have done some interesting research; both have sensible points of view about teaching mathematics in schools, and about education in general; in my discussions with them, both have been critical of the staus quo.

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