Letter to the Editors: Math Barbie Debate Rages On

Tommy La Voy

To the Editors:

Full disclosure: I have trouble with mathematics, and do not plan to pursue it beyond the Calculus I class I took last semester.

For the topic of my epistle, I refer to Professor Manish Mehta’s recent critical letter in regards to a previous weekly calendar in the Review. The supposed transgression committed by this venerable publication was to be found in the calendar’s description of a mathematics lecture, which included, “If you’re one of those people who are actually into/excel [sic] at math, this is for you, you odd little demographic.” Before I criticize Professor Mehta, I would like to laud him for providing much needed copy-editing services. That being said, I have a few points to raise:

• As far as I can tell, the Review does not represent a particular gender (or sex; as this is Oberlin I’ll be sure to mention them separately), nor does it serve as any type of role model for small, impressionable children worldwide. Comparing it to “Math Barbie” merely on the basis that both of them express distaste for mathematics seems like quite a stretch. Following that logic, I suppose I’m just like Math Barbie as well.

• Professor Mehta criticized the Review for “admitting ignorance,” which I must protest. Better that ignorance be admitted than we be ignorant of it. Oberlin favorite Donald Rumsfeld said it best: “[T]here are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” Better we know that the Review’s Calendar Czar is mathematically inept, rather than he or she fake it ’til he or she makes it.

• If the “juvenile approach” found in the weekly calendar in the Review is truly disturbing to the Professor, may I suggest he skip out on reading the Grape, experiencing any form of satire or participating in American culture in general?

• Professor Mehta raised the possibility of there being a double standard in terms of the acceptability of belittling mathematics, but not the humanities or social sciences. I doubt that had the commentary on the mathematics lecture been used in reference to a lecture on ancient Greek pottery, potentially combining Classics and Archeology, there would have been a two, three, four or “five-alarm political correctness alert.” If there had been a such a major response in regards to any subject being so very lightly degraded, that response itself would have been absurd. I’m no fan of double standards; no area of study should be so thin-skinned that it cannot be referred to with humor in a lightly negative way.

So that my inherent social science bias does not taint this letter too much, I will include my (anonymous) math major roommate’s take on the matter: “Theoretical mathematics is not for everyone. Not everyone is interested — we are a bizarre demographic.”

P.S. Last week’s calendar contains an unscientific survey about the dating scene at Oberlin. I’m looking forward to a statistician writing to the editors about how the Review is showing its ignorance by publishing such tripe.

P.P.S. I agree with Professor Mehta that what the Review wrote was not actually funny.

–Tommy La Voy, College sophomore