Why We Have Maths Wars

The Age is getting ready to have another Schools Summit, this time under the banner “Disruption, resilience and new possibilities”, whatever that means. The Summit’s headline acts are (the ghost of) Alan Tudge and ACARA‘s Renaissance CEO Man, David de Carvalho. There is also a brief panel discussion on “Maths Wars”:

Yes, Virginia, the World really has gotten this stupid.

UPDATE (04/12/21)

John Friend has pointed out that there’s a NSW version of this stupidity:

33 Replies to “Why We Have Maths Wars”

  1. And I see it has pricing to match …

    I’m not sure what this ‘Summit’ is meant to achieve, apart from being a big pompous Age advertisment.

    I loved all the euphemisms for Head of Mathematics … Learning Leader, Curriculum Leader, Teaching \displaystyle and Learning Leader (obviously there’s FOMO in play here), I’m sure if we had X more Heads of Mathematics as speakers we’d see X more pretentious titles. Personally, I think part of the problem can be traced back to delusions of grandeur (DoG).

    Speaking of euphemisms and pretentiousness and DoG, it made me happy to see there were no private school CEO’s (far too important to simply be called plain old Headmaster or Principal) listed as speakers. Or pompous former VCAA manglers.

    And all those Dr’s … But not a professional mathematician to be seen. All those Dr’s have PhD’s in Education. And so we see another part of the problem.

    I was happy to see Greg Ashman listed (interestingly, he’s a plain old Head of Mathematics).
    I’ll predict that a merino sheep will replace Tudge (it might have been worth the price to see Tudge and de Carvalho go toe-to-toe).

    No speaker from the VCAA. Then again, there’s already several DET speakers, I doubt VCAA has anyone competent to speak (not that this would be an impediment. And not that I think DET does). And no-one from the MAV, not even a CEO or a President (no great loss).

    1. Probably cruel to comment that one of the speakers asserts as a key achievement having a

      “VCE Physics student recipient of Premiers Award. Above world average \displaystyle medium subject score for IB Mathematical Studies.”
      (my emphasis).
      A no-prize for stating at least two errors in this assertion. (I wonder if the “the main daily sales” were “above world average medium” …)
      And I believe this particular “mathematics curriculum leader” is about the the third or fourth Head of Mathematics at their school in the last six years.

      I know it’s cruel to take potshots from the peanut gallery, but seriously … If I’m attending something like “Maths Wars: A knowledge-based system or an inquiring mind” I expect better from the speakers (I’ll add that I expect Greg Ashman would be well worth listening to – hopefully DET listens to what he has to say).

      And not a mathematician in sight. Clearly mathematicans have absolutely nothing of value to contribute to a Schools Summit. Was there not a single Head of Mathematics with a PhD in mathematics, NOT education, that was invited? There’s plenty of bureaucrats, educational consultants, professors of education faculties and teachers with PhD’s in … yep, education … ready to speak – the same cohort that created the mess Australian education is in …

      To summit up, it’s a nadir. There’s more to say but I’ll start sounding churlish and cynical.

      1. It already sounds churlish. These people may have plenty to contribute. But the lack of a mathematician on such a panel is bona fide lunacy.

        1. Mary, Marty, Marty. What could some egg-head mathematician possibly contribute to a School Summit!? Clearly AMSI should amscray, it has no place in “the important conversation around education to Victoria” and couldn’t possibly “facilitate insightful discussion to tackle the challenges faced by students and teachers, share stories of resilience, and uncover innovation and inspiration in the future of education in Victoria”.

          Much better to have the educational experts that have led Australian education and ITE into the swamp lead us further into the swamp.

          But yes, you’re right … “These people may have plenty to contribute.” In fact, I’m certain they \displaystyle will have plenty to contribute.

      2. And what would a Nadir be without a very popular name https://smhschools.com.au/

        I love the ‘titles’ on these names. In fact, most of the NSW titles are even more pretentious than in Victoria.

        And I see the CEO from NESA (the NSW VCAA equivalent) got a guernsey. As does the President of the NSW Teachers Federation. But no Tudge. A state Minister instead. I find this interesting compared to Victoria.

        Interesting side-note: At both Nadirs there’s a larger proportion of female speakers than male. Coincidence, subtle over-compensation in these woker than woke times?

      3. If there were a summit on teaching science in schools, I would bet London to a brick that invited speakers would include scientists (e.g. Chief Scientist, senior people from CSIRO, distinguished medical scientists) as well as experts in science education. Perhaps the organisers don’t know that mathematicians exist. Maybe this says something about mathematics in Australia.

        1. Terry, the Age Summit is much, much, much stupider than you suggest. It’s par for the course to not know mathematicians exist. But this is a panel about the maths *wars*. The fundamental cause of those wars is the decades of sidelining of mathematicians. The stupidity of that panel is beyond description.

          1. The Age would/should surely have known that Burkard Polster and Marty Ross exist. These two mathematical wall flowers only had a weekly mathematics column in the Age from 2007 – 2014! As well as a low profile from numerous public lectures etc.

            Most people know mathematicians exist. The question is WHY mathematicians are NOT considered to have an expert opinion on mathematics education in Australia?

            1. John, I can pretty much guarantee that no one from The Age has more than a vague inkling of the Maths Masters. Even when we were writing no one knew us. At times, even our editor didn’t know us. By the time we quit, the paper was a basket case. It can hardly have improved.

              1. In that case, I’m very curious how the column originated and how it came to last for 7 years. Someone in the Age must have known you and thought it was a good idea … Or did they all die off one by one …?

                1. Both. The Age approached the MAV, asking if they knew of anyone who could write such a column, and Simon Pryor of course handballed it to me and Burkard. We wrote a few sample columns, they liked them and away we went. Our first editor, Ken Merrigan, was great, a classic newspaper man. When he jumped ship (or was pushed), things went downhill fast.

                    1. It’s interesting to wonder who would be handballed to these days. I suspect the receiver would have to be VCAA endorsed. Such is politics. Mathematics education in Victoria these days is political, not mathematical.

                    2. Among the few people who could do what Burkard and I did, no one would be stupid enough to do it.

  2. I see Eddie is not doing yard duty any more…

    (He claimed in an interview once it was his favourite part of the job… and the line stuck with me for some reason.)

    As for Maths Wars – do we not already know the result? (Maths lost).

    I’m not cynical, just experienced.

      1. Wow – so the last MAVCON I went to where he was signing autographs (I mean books…) that listed him as a teacher was more than 4 years ago…

        I’m now wondering where the time went.

        Probably Dan Murphys.

  3. Why are these events so expensive? When I worked in health care, it was the same. The justification given to me by the organisers of one such event was that they had to pay the speakers. Yet all the speakers had full-time jobs, and well-paid jobs at that.

    1. The Age should take a leaf out of the MAV’s conference playbook – speakers don’t get paid a fee, speakers have to PAY a fee. (Then again, I’m betting that there are some MAV speakers – particularly the keynote speakers – that DO get paid a fee, provided they’re famous enough). I know of many respected teachers that used to speak at the MAV Conference (and whose sessions were always well-attended) who refuse to even attend under this current MAV Conference policy.

      The fact is that the Age School Nadir is a \displaystyle commercial event, despite all the glitter, pomposity and implicit claims that it will solve Australia’s education woes. I don’t know why anyone would pay a brass razoo to attend. I cannot see what bureaucrats, educational consultants, professors of education faculties, social media darlings (with barely 10 years actual classroom teaching experience) and teachers with PhD’s – in education – can possibly say that’s worth the price. Particularly since the views and opinions of all of them can be found on the internet. And with a few notable exceptions, it’s empty rhetoric and garbage. How many of the speakers are actively fighting poor curricula, dismal examination standards, poor ITE etc – not many (in fact, some are even the CAUSE of these problems!) Most of them, like a former maths mangler, will be using it as a paid opportunity to self-promote and push personal agendas (tell me de Carvalho won’t be saying how great the ACARA Daft Curriculum is, particularly with Tudge most likely out of the picture).

      And despite the cost – no opportunities to ask questions. And not a mathematician to be seen. No-one from AMSI or AAS. No Chief Scientist. It’s the educational equivalent of Celebrity Big Brother.

        1. Critiqued here.

          And, thanks very much for reminding me, John. There’s something specific about De Carvalho’s talk that I had forgotten about, and that will be hammerable in the near future.

    2. Jesus H Christ. I was going to say that I don’t care about the price, just the insanity of the maths panel. But $600 for that day of crap? These people are out of their minds. And, the maths panel is insane. At any price.

      1. No Marty, they’re not out of their minds. Teachers are extremely susceptible for a day (or 2 days, or an evening) of crap. “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

        (My very first comment opened with “And I see it has pricing to match …” in response to your “Yes, Virginia, the World really has gotten this stupid.”)

  4. Hi,

    In the business world where companies get tax breaks to send their “delegates” to conference junkets with “show bags ” ,sponsors lunches , workshops , key note speakers ,”thought” leaders and other spruikers of software XYZ… The typical daily pretax price without “early bird ” markdowns would be the best part of $1000 before tax.

    Beats a normal office day if you get to meet the “techies” rather than the sales people and skip the lunches and sign the non disclosure agreements😀

    Even so I hope Mathematica are not sponsoring the above school event

    Steve R

    1. Steve, thankyou for reminding me:

      1) of my total contempt and disdain of the “thought leader” description that so many of these con artists give themselves. The prevalence of “Thought leader” (and “influencer”) sums up how and why society is truly apted. Never has snake oil had such obvious sellers. Anyone giving themselves this name should wear a sign that says “I’m a apting wanker that sells snake oil”.

      In education it is the teaching profession that gives this oxygen – teachers continually and stupidly support and buy the snake oil these con artists sell.

      2) That the correct description for these ‘conferences’ is Junket. Abbreviated to Junk.

      It’s hard to see Mathematica being a sponsor given that VCAA apted up the whole Mathematica trial so royally and then washed its hands of it. But I’ll bet Total Insanity is a sponsor (worse than Mathematica). At the moment the Schools Nadir has no publicised sponsors (except the Age).

        1. Terry, it’s slightly complicated … VCAA pulled the pin on Mathematica at the start of 2020 because of negligible uptake by schools. Schools who were using it can continue using it and it’s allowed in the exams for those schools. But schools who weren’t using Mathematica no longer have an opportunity to start using it if they want to. The DET continued to pay the licence for schools using it, but this will cease after 2022. VCAA are no longer offering computer-based examinations in Maths Methods (they were never offered in Specialist or Further). I quote from the most recent letter from VCAA (dated 18 November 2021):

          “VCAA has decided to discontinue the VCE Mathematical Methods Examination 2 Mathematica Computer-based examination (CBE) from 2023. … the Department of Education and Training has decided to discontinue the free access licensing arrangement for Mathematica for all Victorian schools. This, together with the low number of schools taking up the CBE option, has led to the VCAA’s decision to discontinue the program. Your school can continue to use Mathematica software as an enabling technology and use the software in the relevant Mathematics examinations as a computational tool … however 2022 will be the last year that Examination 2 will be provided in the Mathematica CBE format.”

          The discontinuance of the CBE is no great loss. In fact, it’s a happy, happy day – the CBE was a disaster and a shambles. The DET’s discontinuance of the free access licensing arrangement for Mathematica is not as bad as it sounds – it means that schools who continue using Mathematica will probably need to charge its students a small fee (perhaps 10-20 dollars per student) after 2022. It will undoubtedly be a book-listed fee.

          Personal opinion aside on CAS in secondary school mathematics, it’s a very good thing that Mathematica can continue to be used. I don’t think any school that adopted Mathematica could ever go back to the hand-held pieces of cagel masquerading as a CAS that are never seen outside of secondary schools.

          The long and the short of it is that the VCAA monumentally screwed up the second phase of the Mathematica Pilot.

          1. Actually… (I know this because I was a Methods 3+4 teacher during the pilot but I will not name the school)

            Any student using Mathematica as their CAS for Methods was allowed to use it for Further and/or Specialist IF they took the exams in the same year.

            They didn’t get to do Computer Based Examinations (CBE) in Further or Specialist and screw-up is something of an understatement, although, to be fair, a lot of school leaders (not teachers) really helped stuff things up.

      1. They (the Age) are not nuts. But they know that teachers – and by extension, schools – \displaystyle are nuts. They’re out of their gourd. Proof of this statement will be the number of teachers that attend.
        Schools have a Professional Development budget and a lot of that money gets wasted on crap like this. $500 from the PD kitty is nothing to some of these schools, who in turn will use their teacher attendance as a marketing tool. This is a tip-of-the-iceberg reason why mathematics education in Victoria, let alone Australia, is such a swampland.

    2. In my health care days, hospitals would send staff to similar expensive events on health care. Perhaps one benefit of these events is that they offer delegates the opportunity to meet people working in similar positions. They might come back with a good idea – and a good idea can be valuable. Thinking about work away from work can be stimulating and productive. The events may make some of their staff feel valued by their employer. Perhaps these events publicise important issues – which are well known (- to those who know them well). All pretty intangible I admit.

      1. I’m very happy to host a whole bunch of teachers at my school and line up speakers. I’d charge no more than 100 bucks a head. I’d be up-front that it was a big con. They can come and ‘intangible benefit’ themselves all day.

        1. Is this what (I hear, from Marty mostly) happens at the (private schools) Heads of Mathematics network meetings?

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