Book Review

April 25, 2017

Inventing the Mathematician: Gender, Race, and Our Cultural Understanding of Mathematics 

By Sara N. Hottinger

 

 

This book was everything I learned in majority of my teaching classes. I have read many articles and papers on how schools don’t cater to one or multiple demographics of students. This book reiterated what I learned in TE 407/408 when we were learning about teaching math for social justice. Math has been historically geared towards white men of higher socioeconomic status. Women and people of color were excluded from learning math, especially at higher levels. I could relate to this part of the book in the beginning. The author mentions how she personally didn’t identify as a mathematician even though she held a math degree. This resonated with me because I did the same thing with my personal identity; I didn’t see myself as a mathematician. It also resonated with me because this is how my students feel too. Even if they are good at math, they don’t identify as a mathematician.

 

I think the bigger issue the book should have addressed, that stems from this issue, is student distain for math. From an early age, since math isn’t taught in a way that is equitable for everyone, students have this mindset that they aren’t good at math. From there, as a society, we have made it acceptable for students to say they aren’t good at math. Thus this becomes part of their identity. This book discussed a lot about mathematical identity. I think after spending a chapter talking about the history of how math was structured to be for only a certain type of person, the book should have talked about how to combat this mindset. When I went on a school visit, talking to the principal, they discussed how this mindset has become a generational type of thing; meaning if parents weren’t good at math, they allow their child to say they aren’t good at math. They pass along this fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset. I would have loved to see in this book how to instill a growth mindset to combat the historical prejudice of math. Knowing the history is good to an extent, but there has to be some discussion of how to restructure the way we teach math. I felt like this book spent way too much time on the history. As a teacher, I only found one chapter of history helpful. The rest was repeating the same idea over and over. The final chapter of the book attempted to bring about some type of resolution. Although, I feel like more of the book should have done this more.

 

I didn’t find this book helpful for my practice. It told me what was the problem with math and how we teach it today. However, I didn’t feel like it gave any solutions on how to teach to the minority student. The only thing I took away from this book was to be more conscious in my teaching. Math has been historically geared toward white men. It leaves out people of color and women. It is important to practice because it makes me think about my students. I want to tailor my lesson to my students so the math not only makes sense to them, but also is geared towards them.

 

After reading this, my choices didn’t change that much. I had these thoughts before I started reading the book. I was always conscious about what ways we need to teach students who don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of what it means to be a mathematician. We are always fighting against students’ misconceptions of what it means to be good in math, especially at the secondary level. It is by this point they have already made up their mind that they are bad at math and nothing will change that. The ways we present and teach our students math will change how we teach them. The traditional classroom doesn’t work for majority of students. This is even true for the students who fit that stereotype of a mathematician. Not everyone learns from rote memorization. All students, however, learn when they can see themselves in the math and can relate to it.

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