Truth is slippery stuff
Wendy Cealey Harrison
Most of us feel reasonably confident that, in discussing questions of equity in education, one of the first things we have to do is to establish the truth of the situation. It therefore comes as something of a surprise that Valerie Walkerdine of the 'Girls and Mathematics Unit' begins her chapter on 'The Truth about Girls' inCounting Girls Out(Walkerdine 1989) by querying the whole idea of the truth:
This may seem a strange way to begin, but we do not think that finding
the truth about girls and mathematics is possible. There are scientific 'facts', of course, but we shall demonstrate that these are open to serious
question. We should, however, state straight away that we do not want
to argue that current work on girls and mathematics is a false or pseu-
doscience and that what is needed is a feminist science, which will
unproblematically tell the unbiased and undistorted truth.
(Walkerdine 1989: 6)
It looks, then, as if Walkerdine is suggesting that it is not possible to arrive at 'the truth' – whatever we take it to be. This chapter is about why it is that a refusal of the conventional idea of 'truth' – a refusal which looks as if it might be disabling to the very claims Walkerdine is making – is actually the very thing that allows her to produce both a stringent critique of existing work on girls and mathematics and a powerful and compelling alternative account. What I intend to do is to explore themes and questions which were innovatively presented in that project and remain pertinent today.
There are two related reasons for wanting to return to the work of the Girls and Mathematics Unit. One is that, sinceCounting Girls Outwas published, it