Why I mostly talk about topics on which I don’t know what I am talking about

Yes, I talk about the issues of the day; sometimes I am very noisy. Often the topics have a highly technical aspect of which I am ignorant. So, I tend to try to find out where “expert consensus” and go with them for my “base facts”. Often the debate is what to make of those facts. And sometimes one has to prioritize what they want (e. g. more safety for some vs. more liberty for others, etc.)

But there are a couple of items that I tend to NOT discuss in public: mathematics and mathematics education.
Yes, I have a modest publication record in mathematics (primarily in topology, though I have a couple of analysis papers too) and I’ve taught, in one form or another, since the summer of 1986. So I probably know more about teaching undergraduate mathematics (especially calculus) than anything else.

Yet, that is a topic that I tend to avoid, at least in public (social media).

The reasons are many.

Mathematics: at the research level, it is a highly technical field, and explaining research to those who don’t heave at least a master’s degree is all but pointless. Not only is the subject loaded with technical jargon (by necessity), but one needs some experience to even begin to understand why a particular question is interesting and worthy of investigation.

And, if you are not a mathematician, you’ll just have to trust me on this statement: most “popular explanations” of technical mathematics is TERRIBLE.

Mathematics education: most people have questions about grade school education, and I am not qualified to answer that. My experience has been with, say, teaching calculus to science, engineering or business students. These students have already met a qualifying process, and what works with them might not work with a less talented, less motivated bunch.

And there are the typical comments “I am smart but couldn’t learn math”, therefore “the teachers sucked” or “math is useless in real life” of “teachers need to be able to reach students who have “different ways of thinking”.
Frankly, I haven’t the patience to endure such conversations, hence i make a practice to avoid them.

I excuse myself from such conversations and let the “unappreciated smart people” talk among themselves.

I might talk to a non-specialist privately, but they have to be someone I really like and am already good friends with.


January 5, 2017 - Posted by | mathematics, social/political

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