Systems Science Friday Noon Seminar Series

Teaching for Risk Tolerance:  Intellectual Virtue in Mathematics Education



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An important aspect of navigating the world as an adult is the appropriate response to risk, including processing and evaluating information related to likelihood of occurrences and impact of consequences. We might reasonably expect that children learn these capacities in school. However, in the U.S. and many other Western Nations, the dominant paradigm in schooling is characterized by a skills model of learning that is insufficient for educating students to handle these epistemic demands. In particular, it undermines the development of open-mindedness, intellectual courage, and capacity for uncertainty. I will focus on math education in particular as the discipline seemingly most committed to the skills paradigm, and seemingly most naturally suited to it as well. I will argue that the skills paradigm in mathematics education derives from an impoverished and incorrect understanding of the nature of the discipline. Drawing from Naturalist philosophies of mathematics, which are precursors to today’s Systems-Oriented Social Epistemology, I will offer an alternative conception of the growth of mathematical knowledge and show that contrary to public conception, mathematics is uniquely well-suited for exercising and developing the intellectual virtues we seek.

Biographical Information

Holly Brewster is a philosopher of education and a mathematics teacher by training, and has worked as a
classroom teacher, a professor of education, and a teacher educator. She completed her M.Ed. at the University of Washington and her Ph.D. at Columbia University. Her research is interdisciplinary, drawing from philosophy of mathematics, critical race theory and whiteness studies, feminist theory, and virtue ethics. She currently teaches in the Transitional Studies department at Clark College where she works with adult students from marginalized populations to prepare for vocational training and higher education. In addition Holly is a MS student in Mathematics at PSU.


Mathematics -- Philosophy, Mathematics (Study and teaching) -- Philosophical aspects, Curriculums (Courses of study), Systems theory


Science and Mathematics Education | Systems Engineering

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Teaching for Risk Tolerance:  Intellectual Virtue in Mathematics Education