It’s Friday, it’s Halloween, and our football team is playing tonight in the section finals for the first time in about 30 years. To think that solidifying understanding of domain, range, increasing and decreasing functions was going to be a priority for my college algebra class was a farce and so I decided to make the class more productive. We watched the Simpsons. And I ate my weight in Swedish Fish.
Girls Just Wanna Have Sums pokes fun at the stereotype that men do better in math and are inherently aggressive and women want to sit and talk about their feelings. Consequently, Springfield Elementary is divided into a girls school and a boys school which embody those stereotypes.
(If you weren’t aware, every Simpson’s episode ever created is available on FX’s new website, Simpsons World.)
After the show, I asked the students to write about their feelings on this stereotype and how it plays out in the United States. I then asked them to describe a satirical jab that they found particularly disturbing or upsetting. As a math teacher, I sometimes lack the inclination to ask students how they feel on a particular controversial topic; but I’m always glad when I do ask. Acknowledging differences that exist in the ways males and females approach math is important. But this episode was more about educational access to high level mathematics.
The majority of what they found disturbing was that the girls weren’t given the same opportunities as the boys to experience challenging mathematics. As I responded to their submissions, I took the opportunity to push their thinking further and ask “Are there instances, other than gender, where students are not given the same educational opportunities?” I hope that my feedback will foster a dialog about the importance of all students having access to a high quality education, beyond inequalities based on gender. Because these inequalities exist, maybe not based on gender, but definitely based on race and socioeconomic background. I’d like to continue to help them think about what that means for those students.