Deborah Ball’s Public Letter in Support of Rochelle Gutiérrez

Deborah Ball, renowned scholar in mathematics education and current president of the American Education Research Association, wrote this letter on Oct 29, 2017 to a mathed listserv to show her support of Rochelle Gutiérrez.

From: Deborah Ball
Subject: white privilege, gender, race, and mathematics
Date: October 29, 2017 at 2:22:00 PM EDT
I am writing about the comments by some people on this list regarding Dr. Rochelle Gutiérrez’s chapter in a new book, “Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics.”

First, I am offended by the comments that I read here that question her academic credentials and accomplishments, mocking her degrees, for example, or chortling about the many awards she has received for her research and her teaching. These comments are disrespectful, denigrating and dehumanizing, and are disturbing when leveraged about anyone, whether in the academy or in any part of our community or society. They are especially disturbing when made about a prominent and highly accomplished woman scholar of color. I am ashamed of and deeply offended by the insulting and mocking words and tone of the exchanges I have read.

Second, norms of academic discourse demand that disagreements focus on ideas and arguments, and on the basis of well-informed examination and study of the work that other scholars produce. The posts that I read were not only disparaging, mocking, and peremptorily dismissive, but I did not get the impression that anyone who wrote had read the work before writing their dismissive comments. This is not the practice of disciplinary discourse that we claim to uphold in any field, and are particularly problematic when one engages in debate or critique across disciplinary boundaries.

Third, the work that Dr. Gutiérrez published is not just one isolated chapter. It is based in a robust domain of scholarship to which she and many others have contributed that examines the historical and persistent patterns of inequity, racism, sexism, and the development of disciplines in the academy;
However uncomfortable these studies make some people feel, because they deal explicitly with how privilege is maintained through prevailing Whiteness, racism, and sexism, these lines of work are legitimate and based on respected and thorough scholarship (not only in education but in and across several other fields). These studies are significant for many reasons, among them the importance of analyzing, explaining, and working to change the longstanding patterns of participation and success that plague school mathematics. This research examines and identifies the ways in which the field is represented in school as well as the practices and patterns of school and teaching practice and shows the connections of these patterns and structures to the marginalization of students of color and women. Engaging with this body of research and in discussions about its findings is crucial in order to understand and change these persistent and damaging patterns throughout all of P-20 education. For people on this list to mock this work and question it personally actually shows how real these patterns of attitude and behavior are.

Informed and disciplined academic debate over particular claims and studies is legitimate, but the personal and derogatory attacks in the current discourse beyond this list are not remotely legitimate and they are deeply disrespectful and filled with bias, bigotry, and hate, which we see around us in the world well beyond the academy as well. I ask that you stand up for basic human values of respect for others, and for norms of academic discourse, and that you respect that there are fields of scholarship that you might hear about but in which you are not trained nor a member.


Deborah Loewenberg Ball
William H. Payne Collegiate Professor in Education and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor
Director, TeachingWorks
Research Professor, Institute for Social Research
4002 School of Education, 610 E. University Ave.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259
President, American Educational Research Association, 2017-18

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