Saturday, September 24, 2022

Girls in Math


It's been awhile.  I was just reading "Math with Bad Drawings" and realized that the author graduated from college around the same time I did.  Yet he's here, publishing AMAZING books about math.  And I'm... still teaching, but not contributing to classrooms beyond my own the way I so desperately wanted to at the start of my career.  I'm reflecting on what happened.  Why I stopped blogging, why I felt scared to go to professional development conferences and keep shying away from opportunities to grow beyond my school.  

It's a long sad story with two prongs.  I've never had confidence, in math or anything else.  Any acclaim felt gifted to me as a fluke and thinking about striving for more felt like tempting fate.  Pitting myself against.. well.. mostly men in math my whole life has left me feeling very vulnerable to ridicule (the very fact that I saw it this way is telling).  The result has been a contented career as a teacher, but even in teaching circles I feel like I have little to contribute.  That's prong one.  Prong two is personal devastation.  I was blogging and teaching and humaning pretty well I think from 2009-2014.  Then I fell into the oldest of traps: marriage and parenthood.  I loved my marriage and I loved being a parent.  I guess I still love being a parent (I guess... but it's so much harder than teaching!).  I have been shocked however to discover how patriarchal these two frameworks still are.  I mean, I knew they were, intellectually, but I didn't think it would happen to me!  Right?  I mean... it totally hadn't happened to me at all before... heh.  

My spouse retreated from the responsibilities of adulthood.  Collapsed in on themselves when the work got heavy.  I, in my wisdom, was determined not to be one of those wives who nags.  Because that's demeaning to both of us.  I didn't want to demand too much help, I wanted modern adulthood to be fun.  Who cares if the house is a mess.  We should do math instead!  Sure, go work on the game you're designing, I'll take the kids to the park.  Slowly, I realized that housework, the work work, and the childrearing work had all fallen to me while my spouse was playing.  Then I wasn't fun, I was exhausted.  My spouse got bored and left.  There was a little more to it, as in all stories, and I don't want to fall into a blame trap. I was the one who insisted on doing the work because I was so scared that asking for help put too much of a burden on others.  I played into the system by enabling inaction.  I know also the dynamics can be reversed.  Yet I was so shocked and confused to find myself in this 1950s predicament.  It destroyed what confidence I had left in my career.

So why don't girls do math?  For me, decades of subtle sexism combined with one big sexist torpedo undercut any contribution I felt I could make.  I still teach but watching bright girls year after year choose other disciplines and bright boys thrive STILL in 2022 has me bewildered.  Our math department is chaired by two women.  Yet it's our male part-time colleague who is still pursuing studies at a university.  He has much more confidence than either of us "heads".  When he shares videos on youtube with me of math he's playing with, the majority of those videos are made by men.  My favorite bloggers and writers are men.  

I know women are out there, but just like in math class, I can't hear them.  I took a graduate level math class at my local university the year my son was born (8 years ago) and there were about 30 students, 7 or 8 of them women.  I kept tallies all year of how often women spoke in class compared to men.  I'd add a tic to the top of my paper, one column for men, one for women.   It wasn't until the first semester was finished that my cumulative count for women reached 5 tallies.  The few women in math teaching that I know, respect, and crave to hear more from are entrenched in elementary school math.  This high school math world is bleak.  The teaching of it still feels dominated by patriarchal systems of intellectual one-up-manship.  I feel the touch of patriarchy in our grading systems, in our sequencing, in who talks in class and who doesn't, in how I ask my questions.  Yet again I'm facing a calculus class all boys, and two girls, fighting to be heard or drifting out of the space.  As I did and as I still do.  I have many non-binary and trans students as well, but from my anecdotal observations, the way that students had been forced to identify earlier in their life still often paves their pathways through math. 

After reflection, these thoughts made me want to put words on my blog again.  Hesitant words and clumsy words.  Unfortunately, I think I drifted towards math because my skills in disciplines more welcoming to women are less than shiny including my articulateness... and spelling... and general ability to communicate.  Still thought I feel compelled to try.  Math communication is so tricky, a puzzle I keep wanting to solve.  

I know blogging is old fashioned now and teachers don't seem to be sharing free resources anymore.  That's still what I want to do though.  I want to share what I'm doing in the sliver of an improbable chance that it's of value to someone.  

I'm teaching Calculus, Geometry, Graph Theory and Japanese this year.  I'm very interested in sharing my Graph Theory materials as it's not a topic I've been able to find resources on at the high school level BUT IT'S SO MUCH FUN with high schoolers.  

I'd also like to share the systems I'm playing with, including a new grading system I developed for my school and my ever changing methods for organizing curricula and lesson plans.  Wish me luck!