A Not-So-Great #Edchat

Last night, I had an exchange on twitter which I’ve been thinking about since it happened. For the sake of brevity, I’ve Storified it here (click on that link and read it before continuing, otherwise the rest of what I write here will make very little sense). What happened essentially was, I read this fellow’s article, had some problems with his argument, but was intrigued and attempted to start a conversation about it on twitter. I was surprised to receive a response from the writer, who is sort of a big deal – he’s the director of a national science education organization. So, when he asked about my problems with his argument, I did my best to respectfully explain.

The article in question is a satirical one, which essentially equates the importance of learning English skills (reading, writing, communicating) universally in every class to the importance of learning mathematics in every class. He’s saying that because math is crucial to understanding the nature of the world we live in, that it ought to carry as much importance in education as English.

Now, I’m a physics major and interested in communicating science to the public, so I understand the importance of a solid grasp of basic mathematical concepts. People hate on math a lot, which is unfair, and fear of math (mathophobia) is extremely prevalent, which is unfortunate. But I don’t believe that teaching math in every class is the answer, and as my friend Heather Archuletta, who is both very smart and authoritative, said, it “is frankly not comparable in many ways, and the poor premise doesn’t hold up. In his view, math must permeate all parts of education. I can’t think of a better way to alienate kids from math… Math, as he says, may be the language of nature – but, it is not the way humans communicate with one another as a daily experience.”

Dr. Goldstein responded to my disagreement with a barrage of tweets about why math is important. When I say “barrage,” I am not exaggerating: in about 15 minutes, he sent me over 25 tweets, mostly about the beauty of math. I did not respond with disagreement to most of his tweets (because I didn’t disagree – math can be beautiful and is crucial to understanding our universe), and yet they continued. It was overwhelming. While part of me was flattered that an established member of the science communication community was taking my disagreement so seriously, I felt more and more bullied as the tweets came pouring in. I almost deleted this blog post several times, because I am just starting out in the online science community and I don’t want to alienate anyone. I wondered if maybe I wasn’t just being sensitive, and friends who read the tweets reassured me that he wasn’t just responding; he was trying to bombard me with tweets so that I would feel insignificant and shut up.

Here’s the thing, though. I don’t want to shut up. At first, I wanted to start a conversation about how we teach math and English in schools. I read his article and was curious for other people’s comments. Now, I want to start a conversation about how we, as scientists and educators, interact. Yes, everyone has bad days, and I’m sure that Dr. Goldstein was just having a bad day and, as he said, too much coffee, and he was just in no mood to take criticism. I’m sure he’s a good man and a good educator, because otherwise he wouldn’t have gotten as far as he has. But he is a grown man who is successful in his field and I am a young undergraduate student just starting out. Think of what would happen if I was unsure about going into science, or even if I just didn’t yet know how great most of the scientists on twitter are. It’s a good thing that I am confident in my intelligence and self-expression, because I can brush this sort of thing off. But what if I wasn’t?

…Which brings me to my point. Why are we trying to shut anyone up? I was not trying to incite an argument – I legitimately think that this is an interesting topic, and I wanted to have a discussion. Shouldn’t that sort of thing be expected on an open medium like twitter? Isn’t that what it’s for? I make an effort to keep my internet presence friendly – I don’t swear on twitter (even though that’s not the easiest for me), I let people know when I like something they’ve posted, and I am always open to critique or conversation with anybody. However, I’m new to this. Many other people are, too, and I value all of the new input, the voices I wasn’t able to hear before. It’s important to me. So, I guess my point is, as communicators our job is to tell people our perspective and talk about other perspectives, and that includes everyone, from professionals like Dr. Goldstein all the way down to students like me.

Also, don’t be mean to strangers on the internet because they might be upset and then write a whole thing about it.

UPDATE: Dr. Goldstein has written a comment below that you should read. He turned me venting about a mediocre situation and feeling bad into an actual conversation and addressed pretty much all of my concerns. Also, check out his work with the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, because it is good work and they’re doing some awesome things.

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7 thoughts on “A Not-So-Great #Edchat

  1. Great blog about your experience. No educator should ever make a student or colleague feel bullied or pressured or uncomfortable. Too much coffee or not, it was not constructive of him to have a one sided conversation at your expense.

    • Thanks, Carmen! I’m sure he meant no ill, but it wasn’t great (and in terms of science education, which is what he does, it was pretty astonishing).

  2. I see your readers are standing by you on this. Most should. That’s what a following is about. But from my view, your post above is one-sided. I’d like to provide my view as well, if you’d post this comment in its entirety.

    First, I will again apologize. It was after a very long day on my side that we had the twitter conversation. I have spent the last 2 months dedicated to fundraising for a program that would immerse 7,000 grade 5-12 students in real research on the International Space Station (http://ssep.ncesse.org). A program I created to do good things. After a long day of that intense activity, as we get close to our funding deadline, for a program dedicated to providing the correct path to inspire thousands to consider STEM fields, and where a LOVE of math is a core requirement – you pushed a hot button.

    I did not mean to make you feel bullied. That was not my intent. My intent was to communicate my side of the discussion to my Twitter followers, the majority of whom are teachers, administrators etc (FYI – look at my followers list). So, to be clear, it was not a conversation between just you and me. You engaged on Twitter! And thousands in principal could have been eavesdropping (my PLN), and easily a couple of hundred likely were. It started when I tweeted on the importance of math and a link to my essay at Huffington Post. It’s a Twitter account being followed by 10,560 folks, so my tweet was pulled from the Twitter stream by all these folks, and anyone eavesdropping on the hashtag #edchat. You replied with the following:

    “This is a pretty common argument on math education, but I have some big problems with it: http://huff.to/14nYif by @doctorjeff. Thoughts?”

    That’s when we engaged on Twitter.

    For the record though, since you mentioned “swearing” above and inappropriate language on social media, I want your readers to please know that not a single tweet of mine involved inappropriate language, or was a personal attack. Not a single tweet belilttled. The only issue you can and should have with my tweets was the number of them. And that came after you tweeted I believe three or four tweets and then labeled it a “mini-rant”. The majority of my tweets were in fact individual examples of the power of math, information for the PLN and to make the case that math allows us to “see”. Some of the tweets:

    1 million Earth’s fit in the star we call … the SUN. (from V=4/3 pi r^3)

    800 million Suns fit in the star Betelgeuse. (from V = 4/3 pi r^3)

    U just moved 20 miles. 20 miles/sec to get round the Sun in an orbit w 93 M mi radius in 1 yr. (v = 2 * pi *r /t)

    Truly … math allows us to see.

    Your tweet:
    AHHH DELUGE OF TWEETS FROM @doctorjeff I WAS NOT PREPARED FOR THIS

    Again, this conversation was not a communication simply between you and me. It’s how Twitter works.
    I wrote about the Power of Twitter for Ed here: http://huff.to/dgPwa2

    But now let me present my side, since you presented yours above. I did not in the article say that math should be forced into every other subject, but it should not be relegated to simply math class. It should be naturally integrated in an interdisciplinary way. Or another way to put it … if we teach all the basic principles and operations in math classes, and devoid of connectivity to the real world, then the student will indeed say “what do I need to learn this for”? And rightly so. This is a huge problem at a time we need to inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers so that America can compete in the 21st century. As a student of physics, and one with dreams of being a public communicator on a professional level, you clearly know this. Instead of pointing out any value in the HuffPost piece, and saying the system needs to change (it does) you said you had “big problems” with it. I asked what those big problems were – thinking how can this student of physics and communication have big problems with this view point. She should be on the same side here – speaking truth about the need for our next generation. But it’s as if you did not read the essay, which was indeed purposely meant to antagonize the reader as a means of forcing them to question what they thought they knew about math. The response, from hundreds I’ve heard from, at the 3 sigma confidence level, has been ‘right on’! It has not been, I have “big” problems with this.

    Why should students take math, and in a real world context? Because math allows us to see a beauty and elegance in the world that would otherwise go unobserved. Because math is indeed a language – the language of nature. And if you want to see how she operates you need to speak her language. That’s the key to the essay. But you wanted to focus on a narrow argument that math is not as important as say English in social communication. Sure I get that. That’s obvious! You missed the bigger picture – the important point – entirely, and as a public communicator of science. In fact you are such a communicator right now – I’ve read some of the posts here – and you’re passionate. That’s wonderful and keep it up. The nation very much needs you. But in terms of my essay, I don’t believe you were open to see the bigger picture, and certainly did not mention the bigger picture on Twitter. All you had to convey, to someone that is a passionate about education as you, is I have big problems with this. As a communicator the traffic is two way. I would like to ask that you reflect on that deeply. The worst that can happen is that we continue to disagree.

    Please re-read the essay.

    On that point, as a communicator balance is important. Why did you not provide your readers a link to the essay we were discussing? The essay that started the conversation? Shouldn’t they be open to judge the conversation for themselves? Social media is good that way. Your readers can go to the essay at Huffington Post, and can go to my or your twitter stream and see the conversation for themselves. But if you don’t provide them that pathway, that is not balanced communication.

    For your blog readers: http://bit.ly/RrJ0z

    Again, I’m sorry for making you feel badly. Was not my intent. If I could do it again, I’d cut the number of tweets in half. But that would still have been, what 10?

    I think there are many teachable moments in this now much more public conversation. I hope you print this reply in its entirety.

    Jeff

    to the Huffin

    Regarding Twitter, I don’t view it the way you view it.

    • Dr. Goldstein,
      Thank you so much for replying, I really appreciate this being conversation instead of me just being upset. As I said in my post, I have no problem with you personally – you are doing great work and I appreciate that. I’m sorry if I came across as overly critical and negative. I didn’t intend to, and I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t just hating on math, but clearly I didn’t do a good enough job and that is my bad. There are things I like about the article and things I dislike about it, and that’s why I wanted to hear from some other people about it.
      In fact, I personally find your point as presented here in this comment more clear and palatable than it is in the article – of COURSE kids should be learning math in context. Kids should be learning everything in context. Perhaps I read the article differently than other people. Perhaps, when I read it again after reading this comment, I’ll read it differently and pull a different point from it. As I said above, I didn’t mean to attack you, just to start a conversation.
      In terms of twitter, clearly we just use it differently. I didn’t understand that you were tweeting these things for your followers and not just at me, especially given that @-replies don’t necessarily even show up on people’s timelines. Also, I’ve never seen anyone else try to get a message to all of their followers using that many sudden responses to a single person, so for what it’s worth it is very possible that I misunderstood this because you use twitter in a bit of an unconventional way, which I didn’t immediately get. When I received those tweets, I felt belittled, but clearly from your response that was not your intent and I’m sorry. Again, I’m glad that you read this and replied publicly here. If I had known that that was how you use twitter, or if it had been a different day and you’d replied with that “deluge” tweet (which was my attempt to lighten what seemed to be a situation) differently, I wouldn’t have been so upset.
      I think what happened here was the result of several misunderstandings on both sides and I’m sorry. I’m going to leave the post up with your replies, because I think it’s kind of an awesome example of starting a worthwhile conversation online.
      Again, thank you so much for replying (and I’m honestly really flattered that you’ve read my blog)! This was definitely a learning experience for me, and as I said, I’m just starting out, so I truly hope that all is well here.

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