Radical numbers

13 Jun 2009

I was musing over Twitter about why radical communities never talk about being educated in math and science. These are fields covered in privilege and hierarchy, but by taking a radical approach to the teaching and learning of science and math, we can reclaim this important knowledge. Numbers are very important in our daily lives - checking our finances, cooking our food, finding how far we have to travel, making things - and by not acknowledging the existence of math in our lives, it becomes a scary beast. There is the obvious patriarchal math problem - what happens when girls are in a classroom with guys and forced to compete mathmatically? Disaster. Plus, math is taught by rote memorization without actually considering the theory and application. It's a surefire recipe for disaster. That is not to say that we should make patronizing attempts to integrate math into, say, sewing, but instead create a deeper understanding of what the history and principles of each concept are. Take for example the discipline of algebra. The fact that it comes to us from the Arabic world is often glossed over, but this could actually be part of an important history and culture lesson. Most people forget that math and science do not exist in a void - the people that create the theories in math and science are part of a certain culture, most often from the dominant culture. Educators must take time to understand the barrier that is created when dominant culture is imposed as "the right way". After all, science changed radically with the advent of relativity. This is not meant to say that basics shouldn't be taught - they should be handled with a certain amount of perspective. Another problem I foresee is that if we do not push all children to explore all disciplines of knowledge, the safety and security of our world is at risk. It is true that companies don't build things like they used to - when an bad architech designs a bad building and the construction crew uses bad materials and exploited workers, it's no wonder we have ugly and unsafe buildings. A building is only as good as the sum of its parts. There are radical activists working hard to make sure the construction crew isn't exploited or the materials are safe and not exploiting nature. But where are the activists teaching the young girl who builds houses instead of playing house? It is one thing to tell privileged men, "Go educate yourself." That is their responsibility. But young minds need someone to help them to grow intellectually. We need radical teachers who aren't afraid of math and science who want to have a whole generation of kids who not only see a utopian vision, but are actively constructing it.