• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Do Something Dangerous


October 16, 2014

The story of Greek mathematician and philosopher Hypatia (an ancient woman!), who was killed in 415 AD is at least part of the inspiration for the bulletin board that stood outside the Math department for several years. It read “Do something Dangerous: Study Math”, and reflected the fact that at various times in history, knowledge of math was viewed as dangerous and illegal. Hypatia was just one of many who were persecuted for knowing and teaching math over the centuries. Indeed, the Jesuit explorer Mateo Ricci wrote home in the early 1600s that in China, it was illegal, under threat of death, to study math, unless granted permission by the emperor. The knowledge that knowing math brought with it was seen as subversive and dangerous by those in power, and was therefore sometimes forbidden by law. I found myself thinking of this recently as I learned of the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to a teenage girl from Pakistan who almost died in her attempts to help girls obtain an education.

I, like much of the world, cheered this past week for the choice of Malala Yousafzai to share the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. She is a teenager from Pakistan who has been working to assure that girls and women have the right to obtain an education. This struggle almost led to her martyrdom, but instead made her an international figure speaking for the educational rights of women and girls. When she accepted the award this past week, she accepted it on behalf of the world’s children. I could not help but be amazed.

I recall the days when I first held my infant daughter. I often wanted to pull aside mothers of older children and ask them for advice; “how do you do it? Please tell me the secret.” I wanted to ask complete strangers. Again, I am struck with the desire to want to ask other parents for advice, this time, those parents are the parents of the newest (and youngest)recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize ; how did you do it, parents of Malala? How did you raise such an amazing daughter?

Did your daughter go through the usual “terrible twos” that often morph into the terrible threes, like most kids? Did she ever have a self-centered time of her life, when she, like many toddlers, refused to believe that the world did not revolve around her? And if not, how did you assure that it did not happen, or, in the least, occurred only briefly, so that she could go on to change the world for the better, something that I believe all parents hope their children are going to do someday.

Did your daughter always do what she was told, or did you have to struggle to get her to do her homework rather than go outside and play with her friends? Did she always keep her room clean, and if so, how did you teach her to do that? These are things that often leave me, and other parents, at a loss.

As she became a young woman, how did you find the courage to let her live the life she was destined to live? Did you ever want to hold on to her tightly and not let her out into what you knew full well was a dangerous world? What gave you the courage to be the amazing parents to such an amazing child? Please tell me the secret.

And, finally, did you feel the thoughts and prayers of the world with you as you endured those horrible days after her shooting, not knowing if she was to come home alive? Did you know that many people, from far away, were watching your story and that every parent felt your pain, not knowing how we would possibly face such difficulties ourselves.

You are amazing people, parents of Malala Yousafzai.

I wonder if any of my readers also have questions that they would ask you, if they had the chance.



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