There’s a growing interest out in the world in making cool things, particularly with technology. Commonly called the “maker movement,” this trend has its roots in tinkering with technology and computing in ways that move the creation of things out of the hands of manufacturers and into the hands of real people. There is a magazine, MAKE, devoted to this movement, and Maker Faire‘s all over the place where people come together in community to learn, share, and show off stuff that is made by real people. The president of the United States even mentioned 3D printing in his state of the union address in February — this used to be a technology that existed only in the manufacturing sector, but MakerBot, Shapeways and others have brought the technology to makers so that we can all play. And making isn’t just people who already know what they are doing — thirteen-year-old Lauren Rojas recently gained YouTube fame for her video of a rocket she built and launched.
I’ve been starting to ask myself who gets to be a maker. Yes, I know, its a grassroots movement, so of course the answer is “anyone.” But it isn’t really anyone. At the right is what the Maker Faire people put out in terms of demographics to get sponsors, so you can see that, as you might have guessed, this movement is fairly male and pretty well-funded. MAKE magazine is even more extreme, with subscribers being 90% male. So we should be talking about access, equity, and justice issues. Some people are talking (for instance here and here), but we certainly need more.
But there are more than just access issues involved in who becomes a maker, or, more broadly, a doer. I started thinking through a mind map of the issues last night in my weekly Liberation Math class, and it morphed into the diagram below.
Now, you might be wondering what place this all has in my math class. Certainly the maker movement is exerting and influence on STEM (“science, technology, engineering, and math”) education, so that’s a part of it. But more than that, liberation math is all about becoming a maker and a doer. I’m trying to fight against the idea that students are empty and powerless vessels for the knowledge and excitement that I already have. I want people to rise up and take charge of their own mathematics, to become powerful doers and makers of mathematics. Part of this power is the power to decide. People might decide to do very little math, and there’s nothing wrong with that. So long as people are in community and have resources, they can step back from math without losing their ability to make and do. When people need the math, it is always there, and they can access it again through accessing their networks, taking advantage of learning and skill-building opportunities. It is only when students are stuck in the middle of oppressive curriculum that you fall off the edge of the world, doomed to be lost forever if you step away from math. People who are standing in a place of power, safety, and courage can always find a route to access and use the mathematics that they need.