A recent building renovation on my campus by the math department offices saw the installation of blackboard walls. The goal was to provides students with a place to study and work on projects as a group.
I am not sure if it was part of the original vision, but many of the boards have been used to illustrate the utility and beauty of math.
These are nowhere near the best examples of some of the content that has popped up. Since this hallway is in the administration building, I have had frequent occasion to pass by these boards.
As a person who has been confounded by math, I have been impressed by what an asset they seem to be for demystifying the subject. I have only understood about 1/3 of what has been posted, but the explanations that accompanied that 1/3 were often very entertaining as they facilitated my comprehension. The 2/3 I don’t understand at least gives the impression that it is interesting and enjoyable.
There has been one section that has stuck in my craw a bit…
I am not sure if this sentiment was created by any of the math students. Even though this particular hallway goes directly into “math territory” (the other hallway passes the offices of the Dean of Arts and Sciences and Office of University Communications), the general content is less mathematically focused.
This has been up for the last 8-10 weeks now and has remained unchanged while other sections have been erased and altered. One of the reasons it sticks in my craw is that it is immediately visible upon entering the administration building door so it is the first thing I have seen.
When this got posted on Facebook, someone pointed out the irony of this appearing on a wall full of art. And for that reason, it is a little difficult to justify going up and erasing it both as a matter of free speech and art censorship. There have been a number of works that either explicit or figuratively had a message that art sucks/is stupid.
I have nudged the chair of the fine arts department to deploy some students for a little counter-propaganda, but nothing has happened yet.
Perhaps the students are hard at work with their time consuming projects and rehearsals.
It comes as no surprise to anyone that arts disciplines face this bias. No one needed President Obama to make a comment about STEM majors being better for careers than art history, to come to this realization.
Ultimately though, the irritation I feel when I see this sentiment upon entering the administration building disappears when I make a left down the other hall and see the multi-colored attempts to use art to illuminate the mysteries of mathematics.
It really doesn’t matter if people are using these boards to insult the arts because the boards represent an effort to use a multi-disciplinary approach to education that has long been advocated for.
As we learned long ago on the internet, the intent of any effort that allows the for unmoderated contributions is bound to be co-opted at some point.