for the learning of mathematics

Alf Coles - Vol. 43 Num. 0 (2023)
 Paradox in mathematics education: psycho-analysis, metonymy and precarious times


This article draws inspiration from the psycho-analytic strands of David Pimm’s writings in mathematics education. Psycho-analysis offers insight into contexts when we do not learn from experience, by invoking mechanisms such as projection onto others. The lack of attention to issues of global precarity within mathematics education perhaps speaks to a paradox that we know and yet seem not to know (in our daily actions) that, in wealthy countries, we are living unsustainable lives. It is by tolerating frustration and even paradox that, psycho-analysis suggests, thinking develops. Paradox can feel present in mathematics, for example in the results we are led to in projective geometry, compared to those of Euclidean geometry. Paradoxes in teaching arise from the tension of needing to point to desired behaviours, while wanting those behaviours to arise from students’ own awareness. A dramatised mathematics education might work with such paradoxes to support the toleration of ambiguity.


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