Christina Lincoln-Moore “Talk Number to Me: Mathematics and Mindfulness” A Guest Post for the Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors

Christina MooreThis is a guest post written by Christina Lincoln-Moore Assistant Principal, Los Angeles Unified School District. Her twitter handle is @virtuouscm and she can be reached by email at: christina.moore@lausd.net

Christina Lincoln-Moore: Chairperson of the California Mathematics Council – South (CMC-S) Equity, Access and Empowerment Committee, West Regional Director of the Benjamin Banneker Association (BBA); affiliate of NCTM. Co-chartered the National Society of Black Engineers NSBE Jr. Chapter. Students build and compete in STEM projects/competitions. NSBE Jr SoCal provides STEM enrichment to 50 4th-8th graders twice a month. I present nationally, statewide, and locally focusing on equity and access of African-Americans to algebra.

Learn more about the Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors.

Talk Number to Me: Mathematics and Mindfulness

“Mathematics is about Social Justice-Period!” One of my opening lines as an Ignite speaker at the 2017 California Mathematics Council-Southern Section Conference in Palm Springs. I call myself a Lieutenant in our Mathematics Revolution. I am compelled to fight against mediocrity and complacency for our children. I passionately believe mathematics and social emotional intelligence are the key components to engendering formidable joyful life-long learning. A focus on social emotional learning develops authentic positive mathematical identities as sense-makers, problem solvers, and creators of ideas.

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Embrace Detours: The Virtual Conference of Mathematical Flavors

In the first, let me thank the extraordinary Sam Shah for organizing this. Please join in the fun and write your own post. The prompt is:

How does your class move the needle on what your kids think about the doing of math, or what counts as math, or what math feels like, or who can do math?

I’m so excited to see what everyone has to say.

In the longer version of Sam’s prompt for this virtual conference, he asks us to examine these wordles (courtesy of Tracy Zager). Please do so for a moment. I’ll wait.

Tracys word cloudsDone? Lovely.

I feel this divide in my bones. I hated math until I was 24. My whole experience of math was the wordle on the left. I won’t relive my entire story here (you can read it if you like), but the short version is I was tracked, decided the math community didn’t want me, and quit taking math classes as soon as I could to escape the drudgery of staring mindlessly at textbook examples while I did all the odd numbered homework problems. Math had nothing to do with me or my life, it made no sense, and it was boring to boot. 

When, at last, I was shown the beauty of math, my reaction was first surprise and joy, but it was quickly followed by a cold-burning fury. How the hell had I gotten all the way through college without knowing these formulas had meaning? That math was supposed to make sense? How is it possible that no one took my hand and showed me the awesome majesty of prime numbers?!

I concede it’s possible someone tried to show me, but that I was so turned off to math that I refused to see it. I am, however, absolutely certain that no one ever tried to talk about me about the platonics being duals of each other. Which, frankly, borders on  criminal educational negligence.

I realize this is a long prelude to answering Sam’s question, but it’s vital background to me, because it’s at the core of who I am (or at least who I want to be) as a math teacher.  I don’t want any of my students to get to the ripe old age of 25, find out there are multiple sizes of infinity and become inconsolably enraged that such an amazing fact existed and no one had bothered to tell me about it. (You can ask my boyfriend. I refused to calm down for at least a week.) Nor do I want my students deprived of experiencing how math can help them make sense of and strengthen their place in the world.

To be clear, my answer to Sam’s question is a single thing, although there are two halves to it. I believe strongly in detouring from the lesson whenever possible if it allows me to (1) expose students to awesome math or (2) if students have something they want or need to talk about. And to hell with the pacing guide.

To do this, I talk, early and often, about the point of math class. While conceding that linear equations have some value, I tell students that’s not really what we care about.

We care about the patterns and hidden structures that support linear functions.

We care that thinking about a visual pattern going backwards might lead somewhere crazy fun.

We care that statistics gives us a way to quantify the messy world we live in. Maybe it doesn’t explain the problems of the world, but it can be a place to rest our emotions while we sort out our feelings, then we can use mathematics to build a stronger argument for acting on what we believe.

We care that how I see something might be totally different than how you see it. And we’ll both learn things by teaching our vision to the other person.

We do not actually care about mx+b.

I state, as clearly and frequently as I can, that if there is any compelling reason to detour from the lesson I had planned, we should do that. These “compelling reasons” normally fall into the two categories I outlined above. Either students have some awesome question about some math topic outside the scope of my planned lesson (for example, we’re talking place value, and they question the base 10 system), or there’s something important happening in their lives and they need some space to process it.

“But Annie,” you gently prod. “Don’t you get distracted and off topic a lot? Do you get through all the standards?”

Of course we’re distracted! Of course we have to rush some things! Of course I don’t always want to do it, but students remind me that I was the one that told them to interrupt and of course, I’m forced to concede that yes, I did say that, but we still have to learn absolute value inequalities or I’ll get fired, and they respond, “that’s stupid,” and I say, “you’re right,” and then we make space for whatever it is they need space for.

Encouraging them, right off the bat, to interrupt me with things they’re interested in or that affect their lives is absolutely not a recipe for calm, compliant students, but I don’t want that. I want them to fight back and make me expose them to good stuff, make me create space for their lives. They keep me honest. They keep me from complacently looking at what’s next in the book and making sure they know exactly what they need to know to pass the test as if that were the most important thing in their lives. It makes me eager to find new ways to engage them in mathematics.

You see, I am petrified that I will do to some of my students what was done to me. That because I am tired or lazy or behind on the pacing guide, I will cut them off from the mathematical community through some thoughtless act of drudgery or dismissal. Big aside: It’s also the reason the Mathematicians Project is a staple of my classroom. Just like I want them to question what we’re learning, I also want them to question the context we learn it in. Most textbooks pay lip service to at least one female mathematician, but rarely, if ever, do they include black and brown men (much less a black or brown woman, heaven forbid). I’ve written and presented about it a lot already, so I will summarize it here for you by asking: if you want to convince ALL your students they are mathematicians but the only Mathematicians you ever show them are old, dead, white men, why should they believe you? 

I have a LOT of respect for teachers who can look at a unit, then go find something in their community that fits perfectly into that unit. Someday I’ll be able to do that. I’ll seamlessly weave my students lives into the content according to the timing as it appears on the calendar at the beginning of the year. But right now, I’m not there. It always feels forced when I try to fit the “real world” onto the pacing guide my team uses. I know my students don’t care about two fictional brothers racing each other on a graph taken from the textbook, and it would be so great if I could always find a relevant connection to their lives that fits the math I’m supposed to teach, but it doesn’t often work out that way. So right now, I detour.

School shootings were a frequent topic at school this year, and when my students wanted to talk about it, I found a way to talk about it. I connected it to math, although it rarely (if ever) had anything to do with our unit at the time. I frequently fell behind on the pacing guide, but my students are more engaged in class because they know if they need to derail me because it’s important, I’ll derail.

At the end of every year, I give my students an anonymous survey and one of the questions I ask is if anything was particularly memorable from the year. Again and again, students mention when we did things outside the book, the standards, the *curriculum*. Some quotes:

  • In the beginning of the year when I thought the hurricanes in America stood for Verizon [referenced this which I stole from Sara VDW]
  • The school shooting maps
  • i liked our conversations that included real world events
  • Ms. Perkins always relating math to things going on in the outside world
  • Discussing topics outside of math
  • The mathmetician [sic]  was always fun and so was the stats about world disasters (hurricanes, shootings, etc.) it was nice to apply math to real, current events.
  • 5 dimensional shapes are really just bubbles

I also ask them how they currently feel about math, and while the responses are not always 100% positive, they have (thus far) always been an improvement on the beginning of the year.

So that’s my bit. Derail for math or for life, whenever your students need you to. I would love to hear how any of you are doing this or some version of it in your classroom. I would REALLY love to hear if you have ideas on how I can improve on it.

Also, (especially since you made it all the way to the end!) if you don’t have a blog of your own and want to participate in these Mathematical Flavors, shoot me a message, and I would be happy to host your guest post on this blog.

Supply List – Islamic Art

This is primarily for the sake of my TMC session attendees, but if anyone else likes, here you are.

supply image

  1. Pencil case – I made my own from this pattern. Most people are probably not as picky as me but I love mine.
  2. Erasers – I use the Mono erasers for fine work. There’s a rectangle and a circle tip it’s way more useful than I thought originally. Great for erasing mistake lines & prepping weave work.
  3. Pencils – Pencils with “H” in them are harder, stay sharp longer, and draw lightly. 3H is lighter and harder than H. Pencils with “B” in them are softer and draw darker. They need sharpening more often. Pick whatever you want. I use tombow and  staedler pencils a lot and a range is nice so you can use darker pencils to highlight things you’re working on.
  4. Mechanical Pencils – this is new for me, but these are way more precise than sharpener pencils. I currently have a 0.3 and a 0.5 with a couple different lead hardnesses. My current ones are Alvin’s, but I can’t say that’s more or less wonderful than others because they’re so new to me.
  5. Markers – I love prismacolor markers, but they’re expensive. This set is nice though and is less than $20. I also use a lot of grey markers – this set is reasonable.
  6. Pen Sketcher’s Book/Hot Press watercolor paper – My personal favorite type of paper is the Pen Sketcher’s pad, but that’s because I like markers. If you also like markers, that’s great and I suggest this. If you don’t, you’re on your own. I also use watercolor paper, and try to use hot press paper because it’s less textured and is nicer to my markers.
  7. Pens – I like prismacolor pens. Specfically this set. Mostly use them for outlining and hard edges.
  8. White pens – This is strictly used by me to fix really dumb mistakes. Occasionally helpful, never ideal.
  9. rulers – I love these rulers. 12×2 inch  6×1 inch I have multiple of each. (Just because I lose them a lot.)

(NOT PICTURED BUT STILL IMPORTANT!)

10. If you have sharpening pencils, get a decent pencil sharpener. Many options are great.

11. Compass – I like this one.

12. Regular erasers. There are lots of good choices, but my experience is that anything red is terrible.

Here’s Megan’s list:

Resources:

Megan’s go to page by Joumana Medlej

Annie’s go to page by Samira Mian (You can also get links to her online courses there.)

The Ferzokah Jaali on desmos geometry

Two articles on coloring in Islamic Art (found by Stephen)

This book is an EXCELLENT resource. I got it from my library, but will likely end up purchasing it myself.

#BlackBrilliance Blog, Section 1: Cultural-Historical Perspectives

Yes, this is 6 days late, but it’s summer, so I’m hoping you’ll all forgive me.

So there is a schedule in my last post, but I’m going to screw it all up. This post got real long, real fast, so I’m just going to do 5 separate posts for the 5 sections of the book. I’ll do Section 2 tomorrow. Y’all do whatever works for you.

Before I get started, I’d like to just talk briefly about my current feelings towards the tome. And it does feel like that a bit to me – even though it’s a collection of essays from a number of authors, knowing Dr. Danny Martin (I’m less familiar with Jacqueline Leonard, his co-editor) I guess I expected the book to not exactly be a “summer read”. Dr. Martin is a brilliant speaker and author, but his works are always challenging reads and demand full attention. That’s partially why this post is late – I’ve needed to find dedicated time to read any of these essays.

Blackbrilliance section 2Now on the content. This post is going to cover just section I from the book. At least for this post, I expect it to be a bit of a “blow-by-blow” of the essays and my reactions to them. I know not everyone is getting through this reading and I’d like to invite all of y’all to participate in the knowledge shared.

Essay 1: The History, Brilliance, and Legacy of Benjamin Banneker Revisited by Jacqueline Leonard and Cheryl Lewis Beverly

It will be no surprise to anyone that the first essay on Benjamin Banneker hit home in a lovely, “hell yeah!” way. I’ve been working on introducing my students to the brilliance of non-white-men mathematicians for years, so this love song to Banneker was a welcome one. Aside from his brilliance, I was hit hardest by how outspoken Banneker was on the evils of slavery.

Writing to Thomas Jefferson,

“[Banneker] urgently requested that slavery be abolished, arguing passionately and authoritatively on behalf of Blacks because Jefferson had been consistently critical of the intelligence of Negroes. Banneker suggested that any dismissing of African talents, skills and abilities by European Americans was a direct consequence of enslavement and not Black’s inability to perform.” p. 12

This is a whopper of a quote and hit me hard. In the first, because I think of all the folk, myself included, who are occasionally afraid to speak out on racism today because we’re worried about how things will be received. Folk are constantly saying they aren’t sure about talking about this stuff in class because they’re worried about the reaction of students, parents, principals etc. Yet here is A BLACK MAN in the ERA OF SLAVE CATCHERS AND KIDNAPPINGS speaking to THOMAS FREAKING JEFFERSON about abolishing the largest institution in the country because it’s evil. The ramifications for him if something went badly were being lynched or becoming enslaved. And his family did suffer. During his funeral, his family’s home was burnt down – likely arson. Then here’s the kicker, p. 17, made me want to cry, from oral histories, we know that “He [Bannker] was frequently shot at,” by members of his community. Lynchings are of course, evil and abhorrent, but for some reason the idea that Banneker was SHOT at, and today is the 2 year anniversary of Philando Castille being murdered by gunshot just makes me sick. Yet he still spoke out. And I’m worried about a parent email? Shame on me. We have no excuses, fam.

The second reason that italicized quote hit me digs into the second essay. America has made education for Blacks so impossible and so much harder for so long. Jefferson thought Black people were intellectually inferior because of what he saw – but of course you’re going to have less intellectual output from a people who are actively denied education.

[UPDATE: Marian Dingle offered a really thoughtful critique of this in the comments below which I think deserves to be highlighted in the piece here: “It’s not that their intellectual output was less, it is that it was hidden/stolen/erased/unpublished. Descendants of enslaved were denied the education that was provided to other citizens, but relied on their own inherent intelligence to provide it for themselves. “Intellectual output” and “education” often look different to different racial groups, which I think is part of the problem.”]

Banneker was singing the song of so many folks doing the work – the “achievement gap” (a phrase I hate more and more each day) is rooted in the fact that America insists on denying equitable education to the Black community. Enter Robert Berry.

Essay 2A Critical Review of American K-12 Mathematics Education, 1900-Present by Robert Q. Berry III, Holly Henderson Pinter, and Oren L. McClain

I keep thinking that I’m getting there. That I have a better picture of what’s going on, what the history is, and maybe where we’re going. And then something that seems SO UTTERLY BASIC comes along and show me just how little I really know.

I’ve learned over the past year more about Brown v. Board. I know that contributed hugely to the closing of Black schools and the ousting of amazing Black teachers in favor of their White counterparts, to the great detriment of the whole dang community. What I didn’t know (maybe suspected, but maybe I’m just hoping to look better here) was just how vindictive the White community has been toward Black education.

Berry, Pinter and McClain’s essay is basically a step by step through education for the last century or so, but done so with such careful thought toward how it’s all affected Black children that I’m now looking for who’s done this for Latinx, Native, and LGBT communities, too. Here are just a few things that stuck out to me:

Black parents and community leaders sought desegregation primarily to secure greater access to educational and related resources. They did not seek desegregation because they felt that Black children deeded to sit with White children to be educated. p. 30

This confirmed what I know about Brown v. Board, but I appreciated that it put into words clearly that it was about resources, not necessarily about integration. That is emphatically not the story I have long been told about Brown v. Board, and reinforces my growing understanding that for so long in our country, “white” has been the standard. When I really sit to digest that, it’s staggering how detrimental that mentality is to all communities non-White, and for the White community, how much of a barrier that creates toward greater understanding and breaking down biases. It’s something I constantly struggle to remind myself of.

“When county officials found out [that the Black high school, Dawson, offered content beyond geometry and Algebra II], they blocked Dawson from teaching the course. According to Dawson, “They cut it out until the White school could establish the course and catch up with us. That’s how determined White folks were to be better than we were”. p 32

“The consequence of lowered expectations coupled with the systematic design to diminish access to rigorous studies in mathematics appears to have had generational negative impacts on Black children.” p.33

“In schools where significant numbers of Black children were bused, these children experience resegregation for their mathematics instruction. In fact 70% of school districts had racially identifiable classrooms as a result of ability grouping resegregation.” p 34

These are the quotes that most stick out to me before the authors continued to explain how what followed was the era of No Child Left Behind, testing where Black students were confirmed to be inferior to their White counter parts, and we see the birth of the “achievement” gap. Well, no shit. Take away their teachers, deny them the ability to teach and learn advanced material, resegregate them in schools and of course students will do poorly compared to their White (read: “American standard”) counterparts. The most important phrase here is GENERATIONAL NEGATIVE IMPACTS. 

All of this is to say that really, there is absolutely no excuse for us to not address racial equity in our classes. Look around your school. Who’s in what classes? Then ask students that question. They know it better than we do.

Finally, and I’m repeating myself here, but it’s worth doing:

Efforts such as NCLB…often drive research agendas that situate Black children as deficient…The implicit message is that Black children are not worth studying in their own right and that a comparison group is necessary. Such framing situates Whiteness as the norm, positioning Black children and Black culture as deviant. p. 45

Hence, this book.

Essay 3: The Mathematical Lives of Black Children by Maisie L. Gholson

This essay explores how the actual lives of Black children interplay with their lives as mathematicians. She dives into how skin color, both Black v White, but also Light v Dark affects a child’s understanding of the world. She touches on what pop culture representation does to their world view, citing one Black man sharing that seeing a Black mathematics major on A Different World normalized for him that being a Black math major was okay.

There are so many examples that I cannot repeat them here, but essentially, the essay goes into how all aspects of a Black child’s life contribute to their view of them as mathematicians. How the curriculum addresses or fails to address them, how Black teachers impact them, how the rhetoric around standardized testing impacts their learning by emphasizing that drill and kill, multiple choice mathematics is where all energy should be thrown.

Throughout the essay are peppered stories of a Mrs. Gant – who has a positive view of mathematics and her role in it. It’s a beautiful story of how each of these things can be used against or for the positive association of mathematics. Mrs. Gant loved mathematics, and believed strongly in her aptitude and brilliance within it, partially because she had Black teachers to encourage and welcome her, felt genuine success in the subject, and to my fervent delight refused to believe in the “achievement gap”. She reasons, wonderfully, in talking with the author that if there is a smaller proportion of black students represented, the ratios of students failing can be more impactful.

Mrs. Gant disavowed the inferiority of Blacks in mathematics using a mathematical argument. Black students’ inability to do mathematics is inconceivable to Mrs. Gant. p. 70

I have often found through this past year of reading in the MTBoS book club, how different all of our perceptions would be if we actually sat down and talked with individuals. Our society is so currently obsessed with testing and numbers that we fail to see individuals. We put faith in these extraordinarily flawed tests and condemn a huge portion of our society without seeing the historical background that led to these ridiculous numbers. I believe in the brilliance of Black children in mathematics, because I have experienced it in my students. Very few of my fellow White Americans have that experience so they believe the news. I wonder how we might change some of that, and am so grateful to things like “Hidden Figures” for popularizing #blackBrilliance.

More to come, but PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE comment, push back, ask questions or anything. Comments are open, so is my twitter (@anniek_p).

#mtbos Book Club! Danny Martin edition

Hey folks,

Yes, yes, I’ve been terrible and I haven’t posted or made any decisions, but school is out, and here I go.

The next book is Jacqueline Leonard & Danny Martin’s The Brilliance of Black Children in Mathematics.

It’s not cheap ($41 on amazon, $39 from the publisher), but Danny Martin is THE PERSON YOU NEED RIGHT NOW. I can only assume Jacqueline Leonard is equally astonishingly mind-altering.

We would like to do something slightly different for this book. A means to testing whether we can get deeper conversations in a different format. Maybe it will work, maybe not. Here is the plan:

  1. Post a blog reflecting on the book as you are about half way through BY JUNE 30TH.
  2. Respond to other folks blogs on that “half way” point. By JULY 7TH
  3. Post a blog when you are done with the book. BY JULY 31ST
  4. Respond to other folks blogs when they are done. BY AUGUST 7TH
  5. Twitter chat. FIRST OR SECOND WEEK OF AUGUST?

EVERYBODY’S welcome, and we would love to see even more participation. Please comment or dm me if you have questions.

Val Brown’s Question

Val Brown posted this question the other day:

She wrote a whole moment on it, and you should spend 10-15 minutes reading.

I’ll be honest, when I first saw it, I scrolled past. It seemed like a trick question, so many “what-ifs” came up, and I didn’t really have the mental energy to put into it. That said, as I see more and more people commenting, and some friends have encouraged me to respond or consider, I’m now sitting down to think. And as others have been pressed into answering with a specific number, I’ll do the same: my number is roughly $500,000.

Rationale: Over the course of my expected career as a teacher, I expect to earn  ~$1,750,000. ($50,000/year for another 35ish years). If I all of a sudden become Black, I expect things are going to get a lot harder, and I would love to have a cushion against the times I’m likely to lose a job or not get a job, have health problems, and struggle to get a “fair” (read: white person’s) shake. I don’t expect it will become impossible to get a job, nor that my chosen field of education will make it impossible for me to continue on a similar path. I expect I’ll have to start watching what I say a lot more, and that I’ll have to proactively protect myself with more vigilance than I currently do.

I should point out that I’ve had the benefit of not answering first, have been able to read other people’s responses and consider them, and I’ve given myself most of the day to ponder this. I absolutely get folks hedging and saying they’d want tens of millions or more – that was my gut reaction, too, but I suppose I don’t think that me turning Black means I need enough protection to have the means of Beyoncé.

I do, however, concede that I personally feel absolutely no right to ask for that half-a-million dollars (a HUGE amount of money). Black people are born Black into this world (especially America) as is and they’ve gotten no reparations at all. (I do think this mental exercise makes a strong case for them.) It’s me desperately clinging to my privilege that made me instantly think I would need the money. That it could possibly buffer me from the loss of privilege.

I wish I could say zero without lying. I get why reading these responses have been hurtful (Sherri Spelic wrote a really thoughtful blog on this that you should DEFINITELY read). That my number is so high is a signal to me not just that we have a problem around race in this country (Captain Obvious, reporting for duty), but that I have a lot of work to do on two fronts. 1) Doing my part to rectify the situation, by using the privilege I have to bring attention and change to the issues and 2) Continuing to analyze, acknowledge, and understand my privilege. If I’m very honest with myself, I can confront it when I’m “in the mood”, but today, I really just wanted to be excited that summer was starting! Yay! I can do what I want with my time! And honestly, sitting down to write this is not what I had in mind. I was thinking about drawing and wine and a patio. That’s privilege.

I feel VERY uncomfortable publishing this. I really want to buy some time to think it through more, hedge more bets, and double check that it’s okay. But as a dear, beloved friend of mine has routinely pointed out to me, it is only when we get to a vulnerable place that we can learn and grow.

I apologize deeply if my response hurts folk. I’m certainly not done thinking about it, and I would greatly appreciate it if any of you want to challenge, question or push me to expand on any part.

Danny Martin’s Vision

I had the great fortune to speak at the NCTM Regional conference in Chicago last fall. Easily the most impactful piece of my time there was meeting and learning from Danny Martin. I have rarely heard someone so willing to cut through niceties to get to the heart of a matter. I immediately bought several books of his, and started asking around to see who might be able to record his talk at the NCTM Annual conference in DC. Luckily, NCTM itself recorded, and you can listen to the talk, “Taking a Knee in Mathematics Education” here. (And you really, really should.)

Finally having found some time, I started to live-tweet my viewing of it. The start of that thread is here.

I was excited I was able to pause and rewind – able to digest a bit more slowly what he said. Dr. Martin’s intellect is so far beyond mine it’s laughable to think I can fully comprehend his message, but I am trying to because it is so necessary and so compelling.

Per the normal, while I was watching it I got a text from a colleague about a time-sensitive matter, and I had to pause my listening. Life has gotten away from me and I hadn’t gotten back to it, but with some persistent (because she’s wonderful) prodding from Marian Dingle, I sat down to finish it. I’ve also perused Wendy Menard’s post on the same talk. Here are just some of my reactions to it.

White people on the whole have absolutely no understanding of just how bad things are for Black children in mathematics education. And we keep trying to minimize it. 

I experienced this when I listened to Dr. Martin talk in Chicago. Not only does Dr. Martin detail physical violence enacted on Black children, he also provides startling examples of emotional trauma.

Almost more upsetting than this, however, is his (accurate, to my experience) pointing out the high threshold White people have for accepting that harm is being done to Black children. We are unwilling to believe Black students telling us things are bad without proof right under our nose. (Perhaps that is why Dr. Martin felt it necessary to include such blatant examples in his talk.) “You feel you’re not included? Well, how? When exactly? What did the teacher/school/students do?” We don’t just take it on faith that students feel excluded or ostracized from their school environments, we demand proof. Would we be so demanding of a White child upset about their treatment in schools? Would we make them retell and offer proof of how bad things are or would we simply take the child’s word that their experience was negative and see how we could improve it?

I’ve personally seen this at work. (And if I’m honest, I’ve probably done it, too.) Black students at my school have been particularly vocal at our school this year, and I have heard teachers I know say that the students are exaggerating. I have told non-school people in my life what my students are telling me, and had them say, “well that’s just how it is, they’ll get through it.”

I would kindly ask that you start listening for this. Do we let our Black children experience their world how they experience it? Or do we put pressure on them to experience it how we hope they will?

Dr. Martin’s argument of “Equity as Compromise” absolutely cut me to the bone. 

At the end of his speech, Dr. Martin makes a very compelling case, quoting Carol Anderson, that while the civil rights movement may have earned Black people some rights, it negated the deeper issue that human rights must supercede civil rights. The energy that went into attaining civil rights is a mask that allows America to deny Black people basic human rights, beginning (but not ending) with dignity. We say, “You can vote now! Segregation is illegal!” and pat ourselves on the back while calling the police on Black people (Black children included) for just living their lives, and refusing to see their full humanity. If a White person is getting “unruly” (loud voice, exaggerated body movements) we think that they’re acting so silly. Must be having a great day! If a Black person is acting “unruly”, we call the police. Or prevent them from dancing to celebrate earning their college diploma. Or ask our students to be more quiet and compliant.

A White child struggling is supported and the root cause of their non-compliant behavior is sought, while a Black child struggling is “defiant” and “misbehaving” – we approach them from deficits rather than with compassion. We don’t see their strengths unless we are forced to.

Dr Martin summed it up well in his conclusion:

“Mainstream math education has traditionally invited Black people to participate on its terms. Expecting the system to reform from its foundational purpose and fundamental character to a new state of validating and valuing the humanity of Black people is unrealistic in the face of evidence otherwise. Traditional discourses of equity and inclusion have been self-serving within liberal white imaginaries, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. But they have been inadequate for Black liberation. The kinds of changes advocated for within mainstream math education discourses are welcomed and accommodated within the self-correcting systems of white supremacy and anti-Blackness because they represent no real threat to these systems.” -Danny Martin

What cuts me to the bone here is that I can see how much of my work toward including social justice in my classroom may have fallen into the category of me patting myself of the back – saying that I’m doing the work to improve things, while still maintaining the system as it is. A system that so often refuses our Black (and often any other non-white students) their full humanity. I have been guilty of praising Black exceptional figures. Praising their exceptionalism rather than seeing them as representative of a whole. I have absolutely done things to support the system as it stands.

Dr. Martin is calling for a true revolution. An absolute abolishment of the system of math education as it stands today and building it anew from the ground up for Black children, supervised, supported, and approved by the Black community. And I gotta say, the math education he advocates for sounds amazing. Capstone projects that address issues in the world. Teachers informed by their community. Teachers to serving in the communities they actually live in. A focus less on technical math skills and more on applicable skills students will use to understand and improve their lives. It sounds so fantastic. And it’s just so so far off.

Wendy suggested in her post that Dr. Martin’s vision may not have a place for white educators like her and me. That’s totally possible (although I don’t think he completely closed that door, he advocated the community having approval power over the teachers of their children). And I guess I agree that it’s not the job of white educators to create the world Dr. Martin dreams of. It will be better if its built by the people who inhabit it. After all, white people built this one and it’s not doing too great.

I do think, however, that White educators have an important role, and that is to start by acknowledging the current system as it truly is and not how we hope it is. I live within a really great online community of educators that regularly challenge their assumptions, beliefs and attitudes in the hopes of attaining a more just world. But outside that lovely community, I find it exhausting trying to drag white educators into conversations about how we impact our students of color.

There are just SO VERY MANY math teachers out there who don’t want to think about this at all. 

I say this from my own experience trying to talk to other math teachers in my district and at conferences. I have the privilege of being a white woman familiar with a fairly wide network of math teachers, and it’s been dawning on me over the past year (and there’s some privilege for you, it’s only really the past year that I’ve noticed how wide spread this apathy is) just how few teachers seem really willing to do “the work”. There absolutely is a dedicated core, but I have yet to see evidence that the majority of teachers are willing to truly examine their place in the education of Black children. We’re happy to shake our heads and say that yeah, golly gee, things are bad, pay lip service to social justice in our classes, but then we need to get back to making a worksheet about linear systems. It’s just so very exhausting to try to drag anything deeper out of them. (And sometimes it’s exhausting to drag it out of myself.) Any reflection on how we might be contributing to the damaging experiences that Black students experience day in and day out is too often absent. But dragging that conversation out is something I can do, and although I am already exhausted by it, my tiredness is absolutely nothing compared to the exhaustion of educators of color trying to get us to do the same.