You: America's Next Math Model
The correct answer, I propose, is the most influential cultural figure in American literacy over the last 30 years.
Alex Trebek, with his trademark pacing and steadfast inflection, models reading a thorough variety of sentence structures, text features, and quotations. He does this while the text of the clues is displayed exclusively on screen without interruption (players are locked out of responding until the clue is read to completion). This occurs about 60 times in a 24-minute window, 5-6 nights a week at the same time, for over three decades to an average weekly audience of over 9 million viewers.
Whether intentional or not, Trebek is engaging viewers in a meaningful blend of read-aloud of performance-level text and Richard Meyer's multimedia theory (the idea that accessing text across multiple formats simultaneously assists learners more than just images, text, or audio alone). Through the format of Jeopardy, he modeled reading to a national audience approximately 338,000 times over 33 seasons.
When a child watches Jeopardy!, they may not understand each clue, but they are able to pull pieces of the literacy puzzle together, one word at a time.
To this point, I began to wonder who would be the equivalent of Trebek in the math realm? Who is the figure who has regularly modeled effective math to a wide audience?
The issue, of course, is that presenting the subject on its own has never been great for ratings, right? The best we have seen has been inside jokes sprinkled into the background of rapid-fire shows like "The Simpsons" and "Futurama", or as plot mechanisms on serials such as "NUMB3RS". As far as regular, frequent modeling depictions, we may have to go back to Square One.
"Square One Television" aired five seasons on PBS from 1987-1992 as a live-action/animated sketch show covering properties of arithmetic, geometry, number theory, and problem-solving. Its cast list reads as an impressive roster of Hollywood "Hey That Face" performers, such as Reg E. Cathey from "House of Cards", who kept young viewers engaged with regular features, guest stars, and early CGI.
For the late 80s/early 90s, the production value is impressive for educational programming, as it was a product of the Sesame Workshop. The show's run was solid, but no one person stood out as "the face of math" on the show, and once "Square One Television" ended its run in 1992, it left a void that has been left unfilled on the airwaves since.
Media shifting has opened the doors to digital personalities to fill the void, but many math-related videos on YouTube serve as whiteboard demos with little to engage a viewer other than the need to learn this method for an upcoming lesson or assessment. The beauty of "Square One Television" is that it fostered a love of math through its quirks: a music video about tessellations, a crime procedural involving logic and data, a simulated PAC-MAN clone, a sequence demonstrated by a Las Vegas magician...something familiar yet unique in how math was presented.
The great cultural modeler of math doesn't exist in 2017; we're still waiting.
Could it be you?