Boaler, Conrad and the War of the Tattletales

Stanford mathematician Brian Conrad is a prominent critic of the California Mathematics Framework. During the drafting phase, Conrad worked insanely hard documenting the flaws in the CMF and in particular documenting the many examples of citation misrepresentation. Conrad’s work subsequently appeared to form the basis of an anonymous complaint made to Stanford University regarding CMF author and Stanford’s Nomellini-Olivier Professor of Education, Jo Boaler (Stanford Daily). Conrad has denied being involved in the complaint and it is highly implausible that he was: why would he transform a carefully crafted public critique about the CMF into a rambling and anonymous complaint about Boaler? Nonetheless, Stanford has now also received a complaint about Conrad, which seemingly includes the accusation that Conrad was involved in the anonymous complaint against Boaler (Stanford Daily). Which is all hilarious.

It’s hilarious, that is, unless you’re Conrad, who is clearly and justifiably pissed. Both complaints, however, were entertainingly absurd, at the level of childish whining to the parents. It brought to mind The War of the Tattletales in Kurt Vonnegut’s first published story. Hilarity aside, there are a few things worth noting about this slapfest.

Most importantly, not all absurdities are created equal. If the complaint against Boaler was childish (and strategically dumb), the complaint against Conrad was infantile. Conrad has thoroughly demolished the complaint, here. Indeed, the complaint is so absurd that one wonders about the intended effect. Possibly the intention was simply to muddy the waters, and possibly with at least some short run success; the Stanford Daily report was both-siderishly silly, and included Boaler’s greasy applause for the complaint against Conrad. The short run, however, is short.

The complaint against Conrad was prima facie absurd: it was vicious and wildly inaccurate, containing absolute howlers. Nonetheless, Conrad dealt properly with the silly substance of the complaint, point by point, in long and careful detail. Has Boaler done so? Ever? About anything? Not that we are aware of.

The contrast of Conrad’s ability to respond to criticism in careful detail with Boaler’s unwillingness to even try is compelling. At some stage one imagines, one hopes, people will notice the difference. At some stage one imagines, one hopes, the cultish faith in Boaler’s Goodness and Rightness will begin to fade.

6 Replies to “Boaler, Conrad and the War of the Tattletales”

  1. Brian Conrad discussed the enormous amount of effort he put in to chasing up the references in the CMF and how links rarely justified the claims. He did the work in his own time because the topic is so important. I recommend his discussion with Professor Anna Stokke here https://open.spotify.com/episode/7dLikZOqA2QIq4UPCZWhhr?si=DaSB3EtgTW2U-o2Vbgas0A However you can also read a transcript of the conversation following the link on Anna Stokke’s website or from Spotify. Foundational skills and knowledge are monumentally important!

    1. Thanks, Megan. Yes, it is simply astonishing how hard Conrad worked on the CMF stuff. The complaint was completely nuts, and the Stanford Daily‘s reporting of the complaint was the laziest of “he said, she said” nonsense.

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