In my capstone class one of our “dailys” (or homework that we could do for that day) was to watch a lecture by David Kung. I watched this video over a week ago but it is still on my mind. Deciding what to cover for this blog post I decided that it should be something that was relevant to me. Since this lecture was so fascinating, I decided to focus on that. I would label this as studying the history of mathematics since it is looking at the contributions of this mathematician to his field. I will give a summary of the lecture, my reactions to it, and end on how I think Kung could change his lecture.
To start the post I will simply give a brief summary of the lecture. The lecture was on diversifying the mathematical community. He began by presenting the audience with a series of statistics on the lack of diversity in all STEM education. He would start with other subjects represented in a line graph that would show something like, the number of women with a doctorate in that subject over time. He would then ask the audience to draw their best guess as to where mathematics lay. Every type of diversity had a dismal report in the field of mathematics. Women, Blacks, Hispanics, etc, were all underrepresented in every part of the mathematics field. From here, Kung laid a framework of how he would change the type of mathematics education to be more conducive to fostering those minorities who aren’t typically part of math education. He finally ended with a story that told the story of one student who was able to succeed in a mathematics degree despite the social and institutional hurdles in her way.
The suggested method of closing this achievement gap was through pedagogy, though there is an acknowledgment that pedagogy alone will not solve the problem. Passive teaching in STEM subjects, especially at the colligate level, is keeping students away from these degrees. Passive lecturing is becoming available in more and more forms and has the added benefit of being “pauseable.” Kung calls passive lecturing “professional misconduct.” There is a shift to more interactive pedagogies in earlier grades, but the colligate level is not following suite. Kung sites studies that find that interactive pedagogies, which focus on a growth-mindset opposed to a fixed-mindset, are able to help close the achievement gap by being more accessible to a wide variety of students.
Another method for closing this achievement gap is through recognizing the inherent bias that exists in classrooms already. In order to recognize this Kung wants to look at questioning patterns in the classroom. It has been shown that more time is spent with males than females. A teacher is more likely to call on a male student and is more likely to ask deeper, more thought-provoking- questions to said students. This is also true for minority students as well. By recognizing our bias and understanding our prejudices, teachers will better be able to approach all students fairly.
The reason that this video has stuck with me so long is the inherent and unrecognized bias that David Kung brings to the table. Taking a step back, I need to be careful about how I phrase this since I will be publishing this online. I want to affirm that my opinion is not backed up by research and that it is only my opinion based on my experiences as a white male. That being said, I feel that Kung’s attempt at being diverse and accepting, purposely ignores the views of an entire group based on their skin and sex--i.e. white males. If his goal is to be tolerant and accepting of others in education he can’t ignore this entire group. The most telling part of this is during a story about how women will do poorer on a test if there is a question about their sex before the test begins. After his point is made he tells how this research is backed up because they tested male’s golf skills with a similar question about if it was testing athletic ability or just for fun. His first story gets a bunch of quiet and sad nods from the crowd but his second story draws a laugh. I’m not doing the story justice, but this story is marginalizing a group. And everyone laughs. If one wants equality, there cannot be jokes on others behalf either.
There is so much talk about prejudice and how we need to draw out our inherent bias, but bias is bias. One can’t have it both ways. There seems to be a culture of blame in this lecture and one that I have seen in many other situations. Blaming the majority is an easy thing to do, but it doesn’t establish the culture of respect and authority that one is so desperately seeking. The argument that the majority can take it since they are “ahead” is not accurate though; it is simply using a system that one wants to unravel. At one point Kung talks about a picture of a selection of excellent professors at his university. He jokes that he is the diversity factor in the picture of fifty or so white men. But isn’t this marginalizing their accomplishments? Why is it their fault that they succeeded? I struggle to understand his lack of equality while operating under its guise.
I am all for diversity in every facet of life. I understand the lack of diversity that is in higher academia. But whose “fault” it is that diversity isn’t as prevalent as it should be is up in the air. According to Kung, Berkley professors in the 1970’s blamed students not working hard enough for the lack of diversity. Today that blame has shifted to society. But it seems that society has become synonymous with white males. It won’t be until this mentality of blame has shifted to encompass all that actual change can happen.
I don’t want to affirm the Berkley professors of the 1970’s but I want the burden to go back to the students. I want to create a society in academia that is supportive of all groups so that success is based on the student. If this culture is created, and all black females are the ones who succeed, I don’t want there to be a culture of blaming them for marginalizing others. Those who try the hardest and perform the best are the ones who should succeed in a true democratic society. There needs to be equal opportunity and no judgment of those who succeed. Kung needs to follow his own practices and recognize his bias. By removing that and his inability to not blame others for society's problems he could accurately address the problems.