AMT’s Gender Fetishism

A few weeks ago, the Australian Intermediate Mathematics Olympiad took place. Administered by the Australian Maths Trust, the AIMO is a high level mathematics competition and serves as a testing ground for invitation to even higher level programs. It is a serious and important competition.

The AIMO paper is the creation of a committee, consisting mostly of volunteers. After this year’s paper was finalised, proofread and ready for the printer, AMT’s CEO, Nathan Ford, vetoed a question on the paper. This is the question that Ford vetoed:

There are 10 boys and 10 girls learning a traditional dance. They are to be arranged into 10 boy-girl pairs. To avoid height mismatches, each boy is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights, and each girl is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights. A boy may partner with a girl if and only if their numbers differ by no more than 1. For example, Boy 4 may partner with Girls 3, 4 or 5, but not 2 and not 6. How many ways can the boys and girls be partnered for this dance?

Regular readers can guess where this is going, but we’ll spell it out.

In an email to the chair of the AIMO committee, Ford noted his “concerns about the gender context” of the above problem:

“The expectations around gender contexts have changed significantly in society and amongst school leadership, teachers and students. As we serve these students and teachers, we need to be responsive and sensitive to these expectations.”

Ford then noted the existence of guidance for organisations such as AMT:

“For example, both the Australian Government and the Australian Council for Educational Research have issued specific guidance on presenting gender contexts.”

We shall pause to note that the Australian Government Style Manual to which Ford refers seems to have absolutely no bearing on the AIMO question at issue. As for the second document, it is strained to characterise it, as Ford does, as specific guidance issued by ACER; the document is simply a comment piece by one UK-based ACER research fellow. Moreover, as we have argued, this comment piece is utterly absurd, offering guidance for nothing more than an overtly political and highly perverse crusade.

Ford gave the AIMO committee chair the non-choice of either de-sexing the question himself, or of accepting a revised question that Ford and AMT employees had constructed. Here is the revised question that Ford presented, which, according to Ford, includes “an equivalent context which achieves the same goal while ensuring we are as inclusive as possible”:

Two local sports teams, the Tigers and the Lions, are coming together for some practice. There are 10 Tigers and 10 Lions. They are to be arranged into 10 Tiger–Lion pairs. To make the game as competitive as possible, we want to avoid height mismatches. So, each Tiger is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights, and each Lion is assigned a number from 1 to 10 in ascending order of heights. A Tiger may be paired up with a Lion if and only if their numbers differ by no more than 1. For example, Tiger 4 may pair up with Lions 3, 4 or 5, but not 2 and not 6. How many ways can the Tigers and Lions be paired up?

The AIMO chair refused to change the original question, which he noted received “acclaim” from the more than a dozen people who vetted the AIMO paper, and which he argued was entirely unproblematic in terms of any gender issue. The chair also refused to endorse Ford’s replacement question, which he regarded as “artificial and confusing”. The chair also objected strongly to the manner and the timing of this demanded change to the AIMO paper.

It is fair to say that Ford ran roughshod over the chair’s concerns, and those of the writer of the original, vetoed question.* Ford barrelled through to include the revised question on the AIMO paper. To our knowledge, no one on the AIMO committee, excepting a single AMT employee, voiced either private or public support for Ford’s change. The chair and the question writer consequently disassociated themselves from the AIMO paper. The question writer, a long-standing and highly respected AIMO volunteer, was so upset by Ford’s contemptuous response that he resigned from the AIMO committee, and has also resigned from his other, paid work for AMT.

We emailed Ford, indicating that we were writing this post and offering Ford the opportunity to discuss the matter or to make a statement. This is Ford’s response, in its entirety:

“One of the 2023 AIMO problems was changed prior to the competition date. 

The change was contextual, not mathematical. 

It was made in the interests of inclusivity and in support of the diverse cohort of students and teachers the Trust serves.” 

Readers can make of this episode what they will, but our opinion should be obvious. We believe that there was zero argument to change the original question and that the revised question, while adequate, is clearly inferior. We believe Ford acted foolishly and arrogantly and rudely. It seems clear to us that Ford owes the AIMO committee, and the chair and the question writer in particular, a sincere apology. If Ford were not to provide this, we believe the AMT Board should then act accordingly.


*) Disclaimer: the question writer is a colleague and good friend of ours.

Tips and Tricks for Specialist Mathematics

I just received the following email from Mystery Student, Alex:

Hi marty,

I’m currently taking Spec 3&4 and just had a couple of questions reading this post.

For testing linear dependence, you recommended using a ‘3×3 determinant’. I was just a bit confused, and I’m always looking for areas to improve my knowledge, blah blah blah.

Do you have any other areas that make questions more efficient that are glossed over by VCAA or textbooks?

Thanks a bunch 🙂

I answered Alex briefly on the determinant question, but there are obviously readers much better informed than me about helpful tips and tricks for Specialist. And, in any case, such questions are best replied to by the crowd.

So, please make your suggestions in the comments below, including answering Alex’s specific question.

If the post takes off then I’ll perhaps try to categorise and summarise the suggestions in updates to the post. Also, if people think a companion Methods Tips post is worthwhile I’m happy to do that (although the worth of that is less obvious to me).

New Cur 31: The Poverty of No Expectations

This is our final post on the Australian Curriculum.* We’ll try to keep it short. We shall make the simple point that it does not matter what the curriculum purports to cover since there is not also included a clear indication of the extent and depth of what the teacher is expected to teach and, thus, what the student is expected to learn. Continue reading “New Cur 31: The Poverty of No Expectations”

Big Ideas From Little Minds

Robyn Grace, The Age‘s Education Editor, has a wide-ranging article today, on how to fix Australia’s education system. Grace’s article is titled,

Abolish the ATAR, make teachers repeat: The big ideas to shake up our education system

Grace’s article quotes the usual Smart People: Pasi Sahlberg, John Hattie, Geoff “too much basics” Masters, and so on. These go-to clowns suggest a number of old and new ways to paint the deckchairs.

Continue reading “Big Ideas From Little Minds”

The Game of 24

As a traditional Chinese parent, my girlfriend1 Ying is concerned with our daughters’ arithmetic skills.2 To this end, Ying has played a game with them from an early age and still plays it with them: the game is called 24. The rules of 24 are simple: deal four cards, and then use all four cards and any basic arithmetic operations (and brackets) to make a total of 24. Given the four cards above, for example, we could get to 24 by

(3 x 6) + 10 – 4

For clarity, suits do not matter, only the four basic operations are permitted, each card must be used exactly once, aces count as 1, and jacks, queens and kings count as 11, 12 and 13, respectively (or can simply not be used for younger players).3 Of course some card combinations are very easy and can be solved in multiple ways, but others are much more difficult. Some combinations are impossible. A great challenge, courtesy of Tony Gardiner, appears below. Continue reading “The Game of 24”

ACER’s Guide to Gender Correctness

ACER, which began life ninety years ago in Camberwell as a tiny educational research institute, is now a worldwide, um, thing. Courtesy of ACER’s UK branch, we have a very informative guide, titled,

The assessment community has promoted gender stereotyping for decades. How can we stop?

The guide, written by a single ACER “Research Fellow”, is labelled as a comment piece. As such, the guide presumably does not rise to the level of ACER policy. Nonetheless, it’s there on ACER’s website and it seems fair for ACER to take the credit.

Continue reading “ACER’s Guide to Gender Correctness”

Giant Reporting Blues

Here’s a quickie, courtesy of Mr. Big.

SEN, a sports radio station, has an article up today, on the performance of lower ranked teams in the AFL semi-finals. The article first notes that, over the last ten years, the results aren’t all that bad:

Over the last 10 years, the lower ranked team holds a[n] 8-12 win-loss record which does give both the Giants and Blues somewhat of a fighting chance.

But, recent news is not so good: Continue reading “Giant Reporting Blues”

NSW’s Great Backward Leap Forward

A couple days ago the Sydney Morning Herald had a report and an editorial, on changes to New South Wales’s mathematics curriculum. The SMH combo is weirdly contradictory. It is difficult to make any proper sense of the story, and it appears the SMH writers tried but didn’t quite succeed. Continue reading “NSW’s Great Backward Leap Forward”

Kicking Around the Birthday Paradox

Ed Barbeau, who is possibly a little exhausted from the doomsaying on this blog, has pointed out to us a recent BBC article on the birthday paradox. By mathematician Kit Yates, the article is framed around matching soccer players’ birthdays at the recent Women’s World Cup. There’s nothing grandly original about Yates’s article but it’s very nicely done, and it may form the basis of a good classroom discussion and/or assignment.

Regular doomsday programming will continue tomorrow. Continue reading “Kicking Around the Birthday Paradox”