Is Math Detrimental to Self-Esteem? Or Has Social Activism Gone Too Far?

by Keaton Peterson

As any child fluent in rudimentary arithmetic will tell you, some numbers are bigger than others. Three pennies is less than four pennies, five pennies is more than four pennies – case closed, right? The answer is not so simple for a primary school teacher and “Feelings Over Fractions” activist Stephanie Buchanan who is stirring up controversy in an Edmonton elementary school.

Buchanan claims that the universally accepted notion that some numbers are bigger – and therefore “greater-than” in mathematical lingo—is detrimental to the self-esteem and development of young students. When asked for clarification, Buchanan stated: “I think it’s important that we as educators and human beings realize the harm we’re causing children by assigning objective, quantifiable measures of value onto objects – both physical and abstract.”

Buchanan continues to assert “The empiricist philosophy that grounds mathematics manipulates children into thinking that sometimes ‘X is simply greater than Y’ when, of course, Y may be greater than X at other things.”

When questioned on how she would approach teaching young students that, for instance, three sticks of gum is a larger quantity than just one stick of gum, Buchanan was quick to point out that “sometimes, three sticks of gum is too much. Sometimes you just want one stick of gum.” Buchanan continues:  “How can three pieces of gum be better when you only wanted one?”

The controversial idea came to Buchanan after receiving a failing grade on a triangle inequalities exam during her University years. “I tried very hard and stressed for hours over this exam. I adhered to the axioms of mathematics yet my mark fell short. Something is wrong. It was a traumatic experience.”

Emboldened by trigonometry’s flagrant disregard for her feelings, Buchanan set out to make a difference.

“We know that one plus one equals two. But I hope to ensure that our destructive less-than and greater-than signs will be replaced by a universal sign that respects mathematical inequalities as well as the feelings of students”. Buchanan’s proposed sign is a combination of the less-than symbol, the greater-than symbol, an equal symbol, and an exclamation mark all encompassed within a smiley face giving students a thumbs-up.

When asked about the potentially devastating effect on future test scores, Buchanan doubled down.“Everyone believes that the number four is greater than the number three and is, therefore, better. But what about when a student learns about Pi?” Buchanan reminded us that the number three is integral to Pi, the “golden” mathematical ratio.

“When I mention Pi, I’m not talking about the apple pie that your grandma discovered in the dessert section of her Fifty Shades of Chicken cookbook. I’m talking about the Pi discovered by the Babylonians and the Greeks. I’m talking 3.14…867-5309″

Buchanan continued: “In a logical and mathematical sense, three is less than four. Yet, Pi is infinitely more crucial to mathematics than the number four could dream of being.” For those who disagree, Buchanan issued a challenge: “To all of you empiricists ridiculing the number three, try calculating the circumference of a circle with the number four. Go ahead. Try it. I bet you dollars to donuts none of you can do it.”

When asked about the relative importance of four, Buchanan conceded “four is better than three at other things: For instance, no one wants a three-pack of soggy hot dogs.”

If you would like to learn more about Stephanie Buchanan and her “Feeling over Fractions” movement, you can check out her website at

In the meantime, The Wanderer would like to take this opportunity to remind readers to check sources and be on the lookout for Fake News.

Visual courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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