Some views from our current members
Being a member of ALM – a personal perspective, John Keogh, Ireland
“My first encounter with ALM was at the annual conference in London in the summer of 2009, having just cobbled together an outline of my research endeavour. I was initially ‘caught in the headlights’ by presenting research ideas to an audience that included some of the leading thinkers in the field of Adults Learning Mathematics. Until that moment, they had been authors whose work I had read and of whom I was, and still am, in awe. The audience was very polite and encouraging. They asked some searching questions but in a warm and supportive way. Their feedback was very insightful, and continued to guide and inform me as my work progressed. After my presentation, and in the informal, collegiate gatherings, I had the opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics that were pertinent to my work. I’d like to explain how I came to be engaged with ALM and the pivotal role it played in my development as a researcher.
I am fortunate to have had an affinity for mathematics for as long as I can remember. Yet even from my earliest days, I was continually reminded how important ‘sums’ were for boys, but somehow, not for girls. As I progressed in school, the capacity for mathematics became more a marker of being ‘brainy’ and an axiom for a higher form of intelligence, tending to divide the population into those who could, and those who could not, ‘do’ maths. At the same time, there were compensations for exclusion from the ‘can do’ group insofar as was synonymous with being “more a people-person – you know, creative”. In the popular media, high profile figures were heard often to proclaims “oh, hopeless at maths me, can’t even programme the video recorder”, which tended to shape the non-maths cohort as the ‘in-group’, rendering all others to a faintly pejorative geekdom. Just as in my early life experience, maths-ability seemed to be propagated as a heritable binary state, transmissible within families, and across generations, making opting out of mathematics both understandable and excusable.
I was, for a time, smug in my belonging to the out-group until I noticed the potential damage that this paradigm threatened the wellbeing of families, communities and society in general. That mathematics should become simultaneously, a key barrier to development and measure of ability based on fairly flimsy evidence, concerned me. How could it be that whole generations of people could be limited in their choices, whether educational, political or professional, in the belief, possibly mistaken, that they were not a ‘maths person’, and, de facto, confined to occupations that neither used nor required formally proven mathematical ability.
Curiously, for me, I observed people, self-declared as ‘hopeless at maths’, displaying behaviours that were evidently informed by mathematical thinking and underpinned by mathematical concepts. When I pointed this out, the typical refrain was “that’s not maths, its only common sense”. This struck a chord with me at a time that coincided with my teaching adults from disadvantaged backgrounds about computing. That they were smart in many ways became obvious very quickly. They lacked the belief that they were smart and capable learners, regardless of the topic. Trying to overcome negative self-perceptions is challenging in itself, let alone introducing mathematics to those who have decided it was beyond their reach.
Coincidentally, the growing awareness of the ubiquity of mathematics and the emergence of the ‘Maths Eyes’ presented the opportunity to research the role of mathematics in the workplace. I embraced this idea enthusiastically because it brought together the workplace and my curiosity regarding adults and mathematics, under the supervision of two long standing members of ALM, one of whom is a founding member.”
How does ALM support you personally as a Researcher/Practitioner?
‘It means that I can meet people who are involved in various practices around Adults Maths Ed / Adult Numeracy … – teaching at various levels (basic, workplace, citizenship, Higher Education), research (same), and those concerned with policy issues – and I can learn from them all’. (UK)
‘As a researcher, ALM has offered me a generous and welcoming international group of people who share my interests in this field. It has enabled me to meet people I would otherwise not have met, in the formal presentations as well as the social gatherings. Many of these people have become lifelong friends — very important when you are one of the few in your country doing workplace research in workplace maths/numeracy, and when you adopt a stance that is critical of government policy most of the time’. (Australia)
‘The two main points are dialogue and literature. I found friendly colleagues working on similar questions that was ready and willing to exchange ideas, arguments and results’. (Austria)
How does ALM support you personally as a Student?
‘It is valuable to meet people who are more experienced at working in your discipline / practice / activity: you will be able to learn much, and to become more aware of what are accepted positions on some issues, and where the dilemmas and controversies lie.’ ( UK)
ALM is a community that embraces the novice and veteran with parity of esteem. It provides a sense of belonging to something really important that includes the pioneers in the field of Adults Learning Mathematics. One can ‘rub shoulders’ with the World’s leading authorities, converse with ‘the’ authors, and present to an informed and critical audience, but in a context that is supportive, constructive and safe.(Ireland)