Dominoes Episode Ten

Charley was very pleased with the previous discussion on scaffolding. The next discussion was to be focused on the challenges in scaffolding. New ideas are often threatening, and there are those who are likely to oppose any new ideas no matter their worth. She asked Kaylin to prepare a story on Jo Boaler.

Jo Boaler was born in England. She completed a degree in mathematics education in England but spent much of her career teaching in the U.S. at Stanford University.

Dr. Boaler has pioneered a new approach to teaching mathematics. For all time, mathematics has been the bane of students from middle school through college. Dr. Boaler’s approach to teaching math involved students working together with the teacher playing the role of tutor, helping them as needed.

Her approach contrasted with the traditional approach of a teacher showing math concepts while students furiously copy down what is being presented. The problem with this approach is that students learn little in class and then must teach themselves when they do their homework.

Dr. Boaler’s other innovation was to end the placement of students in classes based on their perceived ability. She wanted to place all students in the same class ending the racist and sexist practices that were prevalent in math placements.

When the NSF funded a longitudinal study of the effectiveness of Boaler’s approach, the mathematics old-boy network proclaimed her results to be too good to be true. Right-wing commentators described her approach as woke math. Tucker Carlson said she wanted to teach with “a strong social-justice orientation”.

Math teachers in public schools are enthusiastic about her approach, while math faculty has launched vicious attacks against her.

There have been criticisms of the effectiveness study of her work. As is generally the case, you can make quantitative studies say almost anything.

As she has gained fame and became a celebrity, the jealousy and criticisms have increased. Right-wing takeovers of Boards of Education have also started mandating that math education be returned to the traditional math which has long been a failure and unequitable.

Again, Charley captured some of the reflections he wanted to use in his conversations with interns.

“I wonder if Dr. Boaler could have done more to bring the establishment along. I also wonder whether the old-boy mathematics faculty would have ever accepted their long-standing teaching practices, even though they had never succeeded for many students.”

 “Maybe she should have introduced change in phases. The student-centered class setup might have been more accepted than the mainstreaming of all students in the same math class. I was never good at math and would not have liked this arrangement.”

 “Maybe jealousy was a big factor. People tend to resent those who take a lot of credit for themselves.”

 Charley was pleased with the response to the most recent story. “I want to summarize three vital principles of scaffolding:

  • Enlist those who can help you with your ideas but also influence others to be more accepting of the change you want to achieve.
  • Build your change scaffold one layer at a time. Make sure each layer is solid before you add the next one.
  • Avoid the praise peril. Let others join in the credit. Making a difference is best done by those who find comfort in their impact, not praise.”

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“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”– Harry S. Truman

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