Renowned Futurist Paul Banksley Advocates for a Transformation of Math Education

Paul Banksley’s representative reached out, bringing exciting news. “We’ve got some big news,” she said. “And given your relationship with Paul, we wanted you to hear it straight from him.”

Anticipation filled my mind. What could the 22nd-century skills icon, TED talk celebrity, former vacuum salesperson, and founder of Tomorrows Are for Tomorrow be preparing for? There was a sense of excitement in her voice. “Here’s Paul.”

The esteemed figure himself took the phone. “Rick?” he greeted, “I’ve got some news.”

Trying to remain composed, I replied, “Yes?”

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“Next week, we’ll be making a major announcement,” he revealed. “We’re going to revolutionize math.”

“Whoa!” I exclaimed.

Explaining further, he shared, “We’ve been approaching math incorrectly. Many current teachers focus too much on numbers, multiplication, and ‘correct’ answers. Forget about the 22nd century—this approach doesn’t even fit the 21st! It lacks innovation, inclusivity, learner-centeredness, forward-thinking, and equity.”

I hastily typed notes on my laptop.

“We’ve secured $100 million in funding, and we’re going to completely change the game. It’s time for less fractions and a lot more fun,” he declared. “Out with division, in with diversity. Out with negative numbers, in with positive vibes.”

I struggled to keep up, not wanting to miss any details.

“Sweep away antiquated 19th-century mathematics. Welcome 22nd-century mathaliciousness.”

Continuing, he elaborated, “Think about the equal sign—those two simple parallel lines that are often taken for granted. Too frequently, they’re just a cold instruction to ‘do this calculation.’ It’s all very authoritative: ‘add this’ or ‘subtract that.'”

“So true,” I quietly commented.

“Learners don’t get the opportunity to immerse themselves in math’s colors, sounds, and scents. They are so preoccupied with matching totals here and there that they miss the richness of it all. They become math machines, not math students.”

I typed rapidly, fearing my laptop might overheat.

“When we teach the equal sign as a mechanical process, we miss the chance for students to explore the true meaning of equivalence, to ponder balance in social structures. Some of my favorite math experts suggest that the equal sign is actually a tool of oppression, hindering those striving for equity.”

Reluctantly, I admitted feeling a bit out of my depth. I voiced my uncertainty.

“That’s okay,” Banksley reassured. “This is complex material. Let me simplify. In algebra, students manipulate equations to find solutions. They must ensure actions on one side of an equation correspond on the other.”

“Got it,” I acknowledged.

“Two issues arise,” Banksley pointed out. “Firstly, this is framed in terms of equality, not equity; it promotes sameness, not diversity.”

“Absolutely,” I agreed softly.

“Secondly,” he continued, “students view the equal sign as a directive, missing the deeper moral aspect of solving equations. We aim for a more profound, humanistic mastery.”

“How does that translate to the classroom?” I pondered aloud.

“The options are limitless. Instead of traditional 19th-century problem sets, a teacher might inquire how many trees a student should plant to tackle intolerance.”

I widened my eyes in intrigue.

“Or, how many portions of spaghetti should be draped over the Mona Lisa to combat climate change.” He paused. “It won’t just be math, it’ll be mathalicious.”

I wanted to snap my fingers in agreement, but my hands were occupied typing furiously. “Was it challenging to convince the funders?” I inquired.

“We simply needed to illustrate the real-world relevance, particularly in transitioning students to fifth-generation skills within co-created, dynamic learning environments.”

“Will students still learn traditional addition and subtraction?” I asked.

Pausing, Banksley responded, “That’s not the right question, Rick,” with a hint of frustration. It was a rare moment of impatience from him. “You’re getting caught up in trivialities.”

I apologized.

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“It’s alright,” he reassured. “We’re going to help learners grasp the intersection of 22nd-century conceptual math and authentic social change. They may still pick up other skills on the playground or through social media. Or they might rely on calculators. But we must concentrate on what truly matters. We can’t be distracted by yesterday’s trivia.”

I felt humbled. Conversations with Banksley are both intimidating and exhilarating. I suppose that’s the mark of genius. “You mentioned the broader implications of this work,” I pointed out.

“Exactly,” he confirmed. “It’s not about memorizing facts in a 19th-century style but about the neuroscience of the 22nd century and the kind of world we wish to shape. Here’s a secret: Our initial major initiative? We’re going to redefine the equal sign.”

“Incredible!” I gasped.

“The equal sign lacks transformative power. We need an upgrade that aligns with the 22nd century. Thus, we’ll introduce the ‘equity sign.'”

“Absolutely amazing!”

“Indeed, we’re refining the concept, focusing less on the correctness of an equation and more on its fairness, diversity, equity, inclusivity, and ability to bring joy. The 22nd century demands nothing less.”

Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

The post 22nd-Century Skills Guru Paul Banksley: “Math Needs a Makeover” appeared first on Education Next.

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