One of the more important parts of my job as a math teacher is to empower my students. For me, this means that I want them to feel confident when they are applying a technique that we have worked on and practiced together and I want them to feel able to cope with a novel problem. I want them to feel powerful when they rise to grapple with something new, and I want them to see the potential of a mathematician’s identity in themselves. Social and academic identities are intertwined, and it is important that they believe that they can do mathematics and that they can envision themselves as mathematicians. But when I’ve asked students to describe what a mathematician looks like, or to draw a mathematician, their drawings almost always share similar traits: white and male (…also glasses for some reason).
I have been inspired by a number of people working to revise this reflex. Women and people of color have historically been underrepresented in math, and I believe that seeing role models who have been successful is one way to level the field. As a math teacher, I am uniquely positioned to speak loudly and visibly – and while the stereotypes are still real and powerful – today, it is really not hard to find examples if you are willing to look. Here are a just a few projects I know of, which have been inspiring to me:
- Annie Perkins has written a blog post called Resources from the #mtbos on Diverse Mathematicians (mtbos stands for math-twitter-blog-o-sphere)
- Joe Howard has made some great posters
- Here’s a cool twitter account about women in STEM
- Rachel Ignotofsky has written an amazing illustrated book, Women in Science, which includes some mathematicians
- I began putting up posters like this last year when I found THESE.
- …and HERE’s a set of 50 more posters showing the diversity of mathematicians
Changing this paradigm is slow work. Euler is awesome. So is Einstein. So is Gauss. This project does not take away from that. Their legacy is not in danger. But we need to be conscious and deliberate and public in showing examples that might look different than the ones that are all too automatic.
Here are some of my posters in case you’d like them. Send a note or let me know in the comments below if you have more ideas to further this cause.