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Today, we have the privilege of featuring Dr. Jeremy Teitelbaum, a professor at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Mathematics. He discusses his thoughts on the impact of income inequality on education and some pros and cons of online learning. He also shares his thoughts and observations on people's attitude towards math, as well as the biggest lessons he has learned in this long career.
STEMIFY_ Jeremy_Teitelbaum_Edited.mp3 was automatically transcribed by Sonix with the latest audio-to-text algorithms. This transcript may contain errors. Sonix is the best audio automated transcription service in 2020. Our automated transcription algorithms works with many of the popular audio file formats.
Good morning, everybody. Today, we have the great fortune of having Dr. Jeremy Teitelbaum, who was the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Connecticut for nine years and an Interim Provost for a year. He’s now a professor in mathematics at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Mathematics. And his research is in Number Theory, and he graduated his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Today, we have him talk to us about some of the important issues that you see in education. I just want to welcome Jeremy. Good morning.
Good morning. Thanks for having me, Amit.
So let’s start with some of the things that we have been discussing in this podcast series that “What is the biggest challenge to the access, initiative, and motivation in online education”, according to you?
Well, I think there’s sort of two parts to that question. And I think that the biggest challenge in as far as access, these are three really important things, access, initiative and motivation. And I think we have to first think about what those issues are in the context of education generally. I think that in many ways, the problems that we face in education with ensuring that students from all backgrounds have access and in finding ways to make sure that students are motivated to succeed transcend the question of whether we are teaching online or teaching face to face. The problems involving access are very profound issues in our society, and they have to do with the extreme wealth inequality which holds in the United States. And it’s tied into the way that school districts are funded based on where people live. And so income inequality feeds into terrible problems for access, which holds up the primary and secondary levels and carries forward into higher education. And of course, these are tied up in issues of motivation. I think in mathematics there’s always the challenge of motivation in finding a way to make the subject relevant and accessible to students. And that’s only made more complicated in situations where external factors like low income or poor housing make other challenges that people face more significant than the question of whether they’re interested in mathematics. If you throw the online component into that, I think on the one hand you have the advantage that you can reach so many more people with high quality materials and you can even out some of the some of the problems that you have with widely varying levels of training and so forth by teachers. But you do have the sort of psychological barriers that are raised by the fact that if you’re talking to a screen and not a person, and since so much of education seems to be tied into relationships, I think it’s just harder or at least we don’t really understand how to foster the right kind of relationships in online environments, at least at scale, that we are able to do with face-to-face connections. So that’s kind of a long answer, but I hope it gets at some of the things you’re interested in.
No, I think, Jeremy, you’ve touched on some important aspects fundamentally, whether it is face-to-face or whether it is online. I think these aspects of relationship building, these aspects of access, initiative, and motivation transcend the actual modality of in which the teaching is conducted, teaching and learning is conducted. And as you rightly pointed out, that the economic inequalities are obviously playing a big role in how education, in general, is being seen and addressed in this country. And that’s exactly what I was going to ask you next was how do you think the SES is playing a role in access and what are we really doing about it as a community?
So I guess you’re catching me at a time when so first of all, I think that problems having to do with the sort of really deep problems that we have in American society right now, which are tied up partly in questions of income inequality and partly in questions of race partly and questions of gender. Over my career, I have more and more come to see them as the central issue in education. And I think it’s just very difficult to put people on an even playing field intellectually and to offer them the same opportunities through education. When we have confronted large numbers of people in our country with really basic challenges. And as far as like finding a place to live and having enough to eat and being secure in their homes and their jobs. So to me and I think my experience as an administrator really drove this home, that the fundamental unsolved issues with race and gender inequality and income inequality and in the United States are the principal challenge that we face in education.
The. Profound, I mean, that is really true, but I also believe that we as a community have been making some progress towards addressing some of that. Do you believe and through your experience, what do you think has worked as a community? Because there are examples of things in our own university that we have done lot of things. Do you think that they are scalable and if there is a way to scale?
So I guess I at the university level, I think when you’re dealing with students who have made it to college, so to speak, so they’re already overcome quite a few obstacles. I think that you have to be realistic about the different levels of preparation that people are going to have had when they come into the program. And you have to be realistic about this and try to separate in your mind all of the kind of preconceived notions that you may have about talent and sort of natural aptitude and understand that it’s your responsibility to make a connection with all of your students or university and that you may have some work to do to overcome limitations that people may have had before they got to university. And actually, to be honest, in the United States, even in communities that have resources, we have a strange attitude towards mathematics education in this country. And so we tend to think somehow that success in math is much more an element of talent and not available to everybody, even though lots of other countries have shown that that’s not really true, that success in mathematics is something which is open to everybody. So I think providing the kind of resources to all the students and having the kind of philosophy that everybody is going to be able to succeed is really important at the university level. And you can be, on the one hand, realistic, but on the other hand, do whatever you can to make sure that you’re getting the resources that people need in order to succeed.
As well as a journey. Because I think taking individual responsibility as what we do as educators and really thinking about that, the possibility that everyone can succeed and work towards providing access and initiative for these students to be able to do that independent of race, gender, ethnicity, SES is absolutely vital. Could you share a story with us that really pops out in your mind when you think about the biggest lessons that you’ve learned in your career and journey for the last twenty, twenty-five, thirty years?
Yeah, maybe. I mean, it’s an old story and it goes back to when I lived in Chicago. So when I was I was on the faculty at the University of Illinois in Chicago. And it’s interesting to contrast UIC with UConn because whereas UConn sort of thinks of itself as as as an elite institution, in some ways, UIC had a different perspective on itself. And it was a mostly commuter school in the city of Chicago. And it really did see as its mission improving the lot of the people who lived in the city. And so it was much more aimed at serving the student population of the city of Chicago with mixed success, I would say. But nevertheless, in terms of mission, I think it didn’t see itself as elite in the way that UConn does. And they ran a program there. One of the really most rewarding things I did during my time there, they ran professional development programs for teachers in the Chicago public schools. And I had the opportunity to work with somebody from the mathematics education program there to do a two-week summer workshop for math teachers in the Chicago public schools. And we, it was a kind of a blend of content and also pedagogy. And we team taught it. And I was incredibly struck by the commitment that these they were mostly like middle school teachers. The commitment that these middle school teachers in the Chicago public schools had and how into the mathematics that we were doing during this professional development. But I was also really struck by how little exposure they had had to mathematics, as it seemed by mathematicians or even really as it seemed at the more advanced level. And so even very, very basic things that we were working on with them were completely new to them. And many of them had finished their mathematics educations years before, and many of them had become math teachers even by not necessarily because they even liked math or work particularly well trained. So I came away from that experience with, first of all, just tremendous respect for the people that teach in the public schools, in big cities like Chicago, who face a lot of obstacles that are kind of foreign to university professors, but also feeling like there’s so much more that we could be doing in terms of preparing people who are going to go out be to be teachers in public schools and how much of the things that I love about mathematics they hadn’t really ever seen. So that made a big impact on me at the time.
That’s very interesting. There is a difference in the way mathematicians as mathematicians researchers think about mathematics and the teachers who are in the K through 12 system how they look at it as mathematics and mathematics education means for them. Many times it is influenced by exactly the process by which you mentioned how they became the math educators in the first place. That’s really a very insightful thought that Jeremy so we could continue and talk about a lot of different things that you have talked about in the last 10, 15 minutes. But in the interest of time and I hope that we can continue to have you again on a separate podcast, would you leave us with some closing thoughts and share the best way for our listeners to connect with you if they want to continue the conversation?
Sure. Well, I guess maybe as a closing thought, I would say that for all of the challenges that we face, I still feel like mathematics has a lot to offer to anybody who is able to study it. And it has a lot to offer, even if you really only want to learn it because you have a utilitarian purpose in mind, you have a particular goal that you want to fulfill. And so you need to learn it because you need the tools or because you find pleasure in the way that in the puzzles or in the challenge of figuring things out, which is, I think, what drives a lot of research mathematicians to get into the subject. So I do think that however difficult the problem is of opening mathematics up to the broadest possible audience, I do think it’s time and effort well spent, both for practical benefits and because it has just an intellectual joy to it. And if people want to talk to me, the best way to get a hold of me is just to email me at the university. firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d be happy to talk to anybody further.
Thank you so much for your time today. And we hope to have you again for a few other podcasts with other social and impactful conversations that we can have with you that would make a difference in the education. Thank you so much.
Thanks for having me, Amit.
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Today’s Guest: Dr. Jeremy Teitelbaum
Dr. Jeremy Teitelbaum served as the Dean of UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences from 2008 through 2017 and as interim Provost of the University for over a year. He’s now a professor in mathematics at the University of Connecticut in the Department of Mathematics.
Jeremy is a number theorist and is proud of his work with Peter Schneider on analytic and continuous representations of p-adic groups.
He finished his Math Ph.D. in Harvard University.
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