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Addressing anxiety through mathematics : from demanding performances to giving audience. D'Amour, Lissa Marie


In this dissertation, I inquire into the conditions of anxiety in mathematics learning, doing so by invoking a narrative of work with one such anxious learner, not as exemplar of anything perfect, linear, precise, or even the budding of technique. It is rather a muddling through with a sensibility of respect for a person, a discipline, and the possibilities inhering therein. It ultimately comes to be a story about giving audience to a self and a subject discipline as best I might, on that self’s and that discipline’s own terms rather than acceding to a Platonic demand to perform according to inaccessible ideals that would construe the learner in the terms of the discipline. Taking seriously the world in a grain of sand, the narrative serves as hermeneutic window onto a pervasive issue of absent trust in self, in the other, and in the capacity to learn, be, and become well with and through others in the world. In the process, I interrogate Cartesian, narcissistic, and mathematics anxieties at the root of present systemic pathologies in education, and individual and collective struggles to be well, mind-in-body, given that unavoidable paradox of singular plural being. I address the consequences of understanding learning as autopoietic becoming under conditions where learning is regularly circumscribed by an after-the-fact insistence on orderly construals of knowing—learning strangely positioned as at odds with the messy, unorderly, non-linear cognitive work of conceptual formulation. And finally I explore the play of mathematics between the world as given and therefore discoverable and the world as made and therefore conceivable. I come to describe that play as through anxiety into a stillness of something beautiful, always just ahead, though enticingly present to curiosity’s possibility.

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