Some Thoughts on Teaching, the Internet vs. Real World, and “the Work”

I’ve been comparatively muted online recently. Mostly this is because I am swamped by school – I have new classes and I have a student teacher for the first time ever. My student teacher is fantastic – I’m a huge fan – but I will admit that it takes SO much more work & time than I’d anticipated. As a result, I’ve had much less time available to interact and converse with my online community (#mtbos and #iteachmath). This means that more of my energy has gone into to the “real world” community of math teachers that surrounds me. I must say, this is a very different picture than the online community I’ve built for myself.

I’ll get into that in a bit, but  I want to make sure that I acknowledge a series of tweets I’m seeing this weekend.

Here is the tweet that I first saw about this conversation on Friday:

It is a wonderful thread, and you should click through to read it. I also saw Christopher Danielson‘s thread here:

Another good thread. Please click and read.

For my part, I would like to comment on some things I’ve noticed as my lack of time has turned me into a bit of twitter lurker rather than conversationalist as of recently.

My time on twitter talking with & reading from brilliant educators like Marian Dingle, Jose Vilson, Lybrya Kebreab, Val Brown and Shana White has made me more conscious of what’s happening in my day to day life. Because of those conversations and now that more of my time actively interacting with the math community is off line, I’m more aware of how I move in the world, the white spaces I inhabit, and how those contrast with the school community I’m a part of. While I am currently less active online, I put time in when I had more available and that’s helping to keep me aware of how race & privilege affect my work now. I’m so grateful for having spent that time, and know that when my load lightens a bit, I intend to be more engaged online again.

Part of not being as involved online has been noticing just how less engaged the “real” communities I’m a part of are in “the Work”. Issues of inequity come up regularly, and they’re frequently brushed to the side. Or they’re seen, the comment, “yeah, this isn’t how it should be,” is made, and then they’re brushed to the side. I’ve been pondering why this is and I’ve come up with a couple reasons why this may be. The first is that teachers are so insanely overworked that we can’t find the time or energy to fight the really big fights unless a platform is created for us to do so. The second is that we have so much curriculum to get through that we have neither the time nor the resources to explore social justice through our lessons as often as we should unless something is pushing us to do so. I think I’ve been pushed to do more of this because of the school I’m in that is genuinely diverse. My students demand it of me. I wonder if the teachers who work in predominantly white schools don’t have that extra push, so they don’t end up addressing it. And that’s a genuine wonder. I don’t know enough or have enough contact with teachers outside my district to know if that’s the case. I’d love to hear from you if you have insight there.

To the first reason of not having enough time, I’ll use an example from my own experience. Tracking in schools tends to be wildly inequitable. Students of mine regularly make note of who is in advanced classes (white students) and who is not (students of color). When my department is tasked with and given time to revamp the structure of classes at school, we can, and do, have conversations about tracking and how to reduce/address it. We make actionable plans. But it’s not that often that we’re asked to revamp classes, given time to make a plan of attack, and then we’re off to teaching again. Teaching hits and we’re all so swamped with grading and parent meetings and checking in on kids that bad habits creep back in that undo most of the good work intended to create change. We shift kids to less challenging classes, and the only ones that get truly challenged and moved up are the ones who have the support structures to demand it. Often times, those are the white students and families.

I’ve made a conscious decision to work in a public school in Minneapolis. My reasons are/were 3-fold: 1) I love Minneapolis, and want to live here, so obviously, I’d like to work here, too. 2) I believe in public education, and I do not want to work for a private or charter school. 3) I totally started out choosing this with some white savior nonsense in my head. This 3rd one is a problem, but I need to still acknowledge it, because I’d like for it to now turn into “I need to address some white savior nonsense with my colleagues, as well as making sure that we’re continually acknowledging and addressing race as we do our jobs and live in this world.

I struggle regularly with whether or not I should be a public teacher in Minneapolis. I see how few TOC (teacher of color) there are, I hear, directly and regularly from my students that they want more TOC and that it matters SO MUCH to them when they get a TOC. Does that mean I should step aside? Should I go work in a predominantly white school district? I don’t think so, but I’m not sure. Right now, I’m actively choosing to stay where I am because I, unfortunately, don’t see a huge flood of TOC being turned away, and as both Anne and Christopher noted, I want to make sure that I’m not isolating myself. I do know that I am so much better for working in a public school with many SOC (students of color), but, as a result, I have a responsibility to make sure that I’m acknowledging my place in this space and that I’m creating spaces in my classroom for students to talk about race, their community, and what’s affecting their lives right now. I’m trying really hard to make sure that my role here is not to fix anything (except for the lack of conversations around race in schools), but rather to give my students a space to talk, and push to make sure my colleagues are doing something similar. I have a student teacher right now, and you better believe that I talk to him explicitly and regularly about how I am trying to dig out my own biases and give kids spaces that work for them.

For example, I notice and name if I’ve called out only students of color, and I’ve talked to my student teacher about when I saw that, how I saw it, and what I plan to do about it. When we talk seating charts, I’m constantly offering suggestions and asking questions about why we’re choosing to put certain students together or not. I explicitly address race when we do this. I have asked him to start doing the Mathematician’s Project. I am trying to model noticing things like who are in advanced classes right now, and which parents we’ve called or not, and how our grading system affects students with different backgrounds.

I’ve actively tried to name and notice more often when we have false binaries – for example I used this graph (from fivethirtyeight.com) and made note, with students that this assumes a gender binary, and then we talked about why that may or may not be appropriate in this graph. I talked to my student teacher about that decision.

I do this because of the online community that has pushed me to do better for students of color. I also do it because once students have a taste of it, they demand it of me.

In closing these long rambling thoughts, I guess what I’m wondering is how we get more people to take the extra time and effort (and believe me, I know that it’s that) to work social justice into the curriculum. Again, from my own experience, I’ll share just how challenging that can be. On Friday, I taught my seniors about optimization problems. I saw this tweet:

and thought what a great opportunity it would be to incorporate that! But time ran out, I couldn’t create a problem fast enough, couldn’t find one in the curriculum I have, and thus I ended up skipping it on Friday. Just taught straight up optimization. (Don’t worry, I plan to do it on tomorrow.) It’s hard to get this stuff in. And it takes a lot of work. And we’re already all so gosh darn tired and overworked already. But those are excuses, and we can do a lot better, we just need to drink more coffee? I don’t know. I’m going to close this out, not with something profound, but just because I need to post it and get to planning lessons for tomorrow. I’d really appreciate any thoughts any of you reading have on it. It seems like an intractable problem, but I also firmly believe it’s one that we have to address as a community. If we don’t, we’re failing a lot of our students.

 

Fall #mtbosBook Club: #ClearTheAir

Hey friends! My apologies for leaving this so long. I freely admit I’ve been soaking up every last minute of summer.

I fully intend to continue with the #mtbos book club this year, although the format of it may change slightly. For example, it’s been suggested that we do a “book club” using the Netflix documentary The 13th, which I fully intend to make happen. I also have not yet finished the summer book The Brilliance of a Black Children in Mathematics, and that book deserves to be properly finished. I intend to do so and get all those blog posts up over the next months.

For right now, though, I need to accept that I have little to no extra time outside school (new course and 1st student teacher!). I’d also like to spend time learning from the pros. So I am going to participate in the already established #ClearTheAir talk, on White Fragility. Please join me!

Val Brown does extraordinary work, and I’ve been lurking on these chats. They’ll be worth your while. Here’s the schedule:

3D40A747-B53A-48B3-874B-F1B165EB08C0

https://twitter.com/valeriabrownedu/status/1029907613264302080?s=21

Not sure if you want to dip your toes in? I just listened to an extraordinary podcast that might whet your appetite on the book.

And a final note, I’ll be posting late this week, as I have a Math on a Stick shift during the chat, but I’ll still read and post!

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.

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

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.