One of the many things that math teachers and linguists have in common is that we are usually misunderstood by the general public. The great David Crystal has written an excellent piece on this subject in the context of being interviewed for an inaccurate article in the popular press, such as the Daily Mirror (see typical front page in the image to the right). Of course Crystal didn’t know in advance that the Mirror’s article would be inaccurate — but of course it turned out to be. The topic was the origin of the typical Australian accent, which doesn’t sound like a terribly controversial issue.
The problem is that everyone uses language: we speak or sign, we write, and we read (though some of us don’t read as much as we should). And everyone uses numbers. So the general public consider themselves to be entitled to give expert opinions on linguistics and math. (It’s not that they think they can understand linguistics and math — quite the opposite in fact — just that they have ill-formed but strong opinions.)
What does this have to do with teaching and learning beyond the somewhat esoteric field of linguistics? A lot, actually. One of the major academic goals that teachers believe in is the need for students to have factual evidence to back up what they say or write (except for Republicans, of course). David Crystal’s article (come on, go read it!) provides a great example of failure to recognize the need for evidence.