Last week I had a paper published in the journal Rationality and Society, “Division of Labor in Child Care: A Game-Theoretic Approach” . You might like the paper — it’s pretty interesting actually. But the first thing that’s interesting about this paper is that it did not occur to me to announce it here. For heavens sake, why not? My excuse is that I assume (erroneously) that you might be interested in my thoughts on education, but not in my thoughts on applied mathematics. Really that doesn’t even make any sense, and it’s not the real reason. I hope that you will find something in this paper that gets you thinking. In the paper I use game theory, a theory from mathematics and economics, to model an imagined situation in which two parents are caring for a child. The model itself is like taking the whole complex story of how real parents live and work with small children at home, and taking most of the story out, leaving just one aspect of the situation intact, in order to see what mathematics might say about how such parents would behave. The paper provides a great example of using mathematics to explore human relationships and building models of the real world in mathematics. It shows off what math is best at — abstraction and simplification. Writing it allowed me to explore sociology, gender, and economics, and it could provide a window on those vistas for all of you as well. I want everyone to read it that is interested in math education, applications in math, gender, and parenting.
So why didn’t I think to announce it here? Because I don’t want you to know that I want you to read it. I want this paper to be read without having to take the risk of actually asking people to read it. It is embarrassing to release something you created out into the world. Asking you to read this makes me imagine you reading it, thinking about it, and judging it. That puts me in the realm of self-conscious emotions — embarrassment, pride, shame, guilt. I can imagine lots of reasons why you might find the paper lacking, and being able to produce quality work is important to me, hence the potential exists for me to feel shame. So I am caught in the middle between two desires that pull me in opposite directions. On the one hand, I should ask a lot of people to read the paper, and hopefully some of them will, and some will even talk to me about it. But I should also bury the work and never mention it to anyone. Best is if you just stumble across it in a journal, and email me to tell me how much you like it and what kind of interesting conversations it spawned in your family or in your classrooms; then I never have to imagine you reading it with a frown on your face. But that’s not going to happen, so I decided to share it with all of you in the hopes that you will read it and talk about it with me and with other people. (And FYI, in case you are wondering why I would say all of this,
I find that being honest and open about my fear, especially fear of shame, allows me to manage that fear. I still feel exposed, but when everyone know about that feeling I can more easily manage it since I don’t have to hide it.)