This may be the most difficult post I have written, but I am committed to writing it, because, as Marian Dingle pointed out to me, the silence she noted after Danny Martin’s talk ‘Taking a Knee in the Mathematics Classroom: Moving from Equity and Discourse to Protest and Refusal” at NCTM Annual two weeks ago was disturbing.
I heard Dr. Martin speak on Friday, April 27, about 36 hours after the rousing keynote by Dr. Chris Emdin. I was mentally prepared for the keynote, because I watched his talk at SXSWedu last year, and I’ve read For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood..and the Rest of Y’All Too. I had read a brief article or two of Dr. Martin’s as well, but his articulate and academic writing, while powerful and moving, didn’t quite compare with the live
‘Pentecostal ‘preaching’ showmanship of Dr. Emdin. That all changed when I heard him speak. The subject of his talk – the mathematics education that Black children currently receive versus the mathematics education that they should receive – was both radical and logical. His language and examples were clear, compelling, and perhaps revolutionary.
I was deeply moved by everything Dr. Martin said, despite the fact that I may have no place in his vision. And I am not bothered by this (I think).
Dr. Martin’s talk addressed the brilliance of black children that goes unacknowledged, undermined, even attacked in our [mathematics] classrooms, and the violence and dehumanization on so many levels in [mathematics] education, which is rooted in both anti-Blackness and white supremacy. He asserted repeatedly (and correctly) that efforts at reform and discourses around equity in mathematics education manage to sustain themselves despite their failure to “respond to Black oppression and dehumanization” [quoting his slides] and ultimately preserve the status quo.
And he thus called for Protest and Refusal in the form of a Black Liberatory Mathematics education: ” the framing and practice of mathematics education that allows Black learners to flourish in their humanity and brilliance, unfettered by whiteness, white supremacy, and anti-blackness.” Dr. Martin outlined a Black Liberatory Mathematics education as follows:
“A Black Liberatory Mathematics education prioritizes liberation over integration and freedom. This form of mathematics education is skeptical of liberal notions of inclusion and equity, appeals to democracy and citizenship, neoliberal multiculturalism, and refuses all forms of systemic violence against Black learners. The freedom to participate, integrate, and be included into anti-Black spaces characterized by systemic violence is not freedom.
A Black Liberatory Mathematics education is designed and directed first and foremost by liberation-seeking Black people including parents, caregivers, community members, Black teachers and Black students.”
Dr. Martin pointed out that the fight for civil rights left behind a nation that remains segregated, with multitudes of black children living in poverty, and where life expectancy of African Americans has actually declined. He is committed thus, to a struggle not for civil rights, but for the “infinitely more important struggle for human rights”, and to an educational system that addresses the needs and brilliance of black children, as defined by their community.
I’m not going to paraphrase (or quote) more of his talk – I recommend you watch it yourself. It will be time well spent.
What he said resonated so powerfully with me – things I have seen in the schools in which I have worked, what I have read and observed in the media, what I hear people say – our system – the system of which I am a part, the system which gave my own [white] children a wonderful education – does not serve Black children equitably on so many levels. They are done ‘soft violence’ in terms of curricular tracking and reduced course offerings, and more overt violence in our discipline systems and routine treatment by deans and school security. So, yes, the answer may be Dr. Martin’s Black Liberatory Mathematics education. And the system he described – by and for Black people – does not include a role for me.
I knew this as I listened to him, and the inner [white] voice that kept asking, “but what about me? What can I do? How can I help?” needed to be silenced, and reminded, that this was not for me or about me. The first question from the audience at the conclusion of his talk was just that, “What can we do?” This question was not asked by a white person, interestingly enough.
Dr. Martin said, “Step 0: Hear me.”
So I am hearing, with, as he suggested, open ears and an open heart. I am reflecting on my piece in this complicated puzzle – an educational system which only serves some people well. To be honest, I’m not really concerned about my role in his vision, because I know it’s not about me, and I know that the way things are – well – it stinks for a lot of kids. I can’t be more articulate than that right now, but I know this to be true in my heart. Dr. Martin also said – and this continues to echo in my mind – “There is no road to justice. Justice is right here, right now.” (Again my apologies for poor paraphrasing)
I think that well-meaning white educators hearing this talk might feel bewildered, and at a loss with this vision that doesn’t necessarily include them or ‘need their help.’ But I think this is exactly the point. With a son about to enter school, Dr. Martin spoke about his decreasing level of trust with a system that provides neither democracy nor citizenship for all of its constituents. I have to honor this hugely intelligent man’s perspective and vision for Black children because he speaks things that I am sadly certain are accurate.
So, step 0: hear him. You can watch the video of his talk here.
Even though it’s vacation I’m headed into town on a rush hour train for 3 days of computer science training . I’m excited to learn something new, and the prospect of teaching something new. And the bonus: I’ll be getting paid for these days (and given lunch!). Giving up three days of this last break before a big solid chunk of spring term- you can’t buy time. I thought a lot about that when I signed up. Learning how to code has been a goal of mine for a long, LONG time, and despite the numerous freely available resources, I have yet to make any progress. So this structured (and paid) training seems the best way to go. And I’ll get to hang out with some colleagues from school. I could use a little bonding time with my local math teachers.
The workshop is being held in a space called Breather (the wifi password is peaceandquiet). We introduce ourselves on Padlet and with name tags (color-coded to reflect our level of expertise; I am beginner’s blue). The participants are seated at two long tables. and it seems that there are less than 25 people here, surprisingly. For a city-
\wide initiative, I thought the class would be larger. The teachers come from almost every subject area – math, science, social studies, special education, and even a school librarian (who, by the way, is a killer Kahoot player!), and we have two administrators in our group. A word about the special educator – she is an angel in disguise (although her name is Angelina, perhaps not so disguised); a brief conversation about her program this year (8th grade Algebra, 6th grade Math, self-contained general education (all core subjects) with students from 6th through 8th grade), and her focus on providing more tools for her students floored me. I feel like I am pushing the edge of my capabilities when I have more than two preps. I’ve always been a huge fan of special education teachers, and would like to pay some homage to another enormously generous human being.
A lot of the morning was spent orienting us to the course that we will be teaching, clarifying what computer science is, what coding is, and how computer science evidences itself in our lives now. At the time, it felt a bit annoying to use two to three hours processing information that could have been presented in a fraction of the time, but with the vantage point of 24 hours past [as I write this], I realize that the facilitator was modeling the start of the course for our students. There was a great deal of collegiality despite different levels of expertise among the students in the class. We are all (I think) here to learn something new on our vacation, something designed to provide broader access to technology and computer science to all of our students. So there is, I think, some common purpose.
After lunch, we finally had the opportunity to dig in to the lessons and begin learning Python. I am thrilled by how straightforward it seems, although the exercises we did were, of course, elementary. I find the logic and need for syntax familiar and clear, and I can see a path for myself for studying. The course comes complete with lessons, quizzes, practices, and assessments, as well as moderated teacher and student forums for support. I can easily see teaching the class with a modicum of modification – really, the addition of enrichment resources, and a daily classroom structure. I left the class eager to learn more.
I then headed over to the Math for America offices to meet with Jose Vilson. We will be co-facilitating the Racially Relevant Pedagogy Professional Learning Team for one more semester, and needed to map out the agenda for the four sessions. The opportunity to work with Jose has been wonderful, for all of the obvious reasons, but even more because I’ve grown through the experience. Rising to the occasion of facilitating this PLT and running the single session larger event forced me to push my own envelope – in a direction I have always wanted to go but couldn’t quite get to on my own. I’m thankful for his good humored patience with me, and for the ways in which our styles of working complement one another. I’m ready to continue the work beyond the PLT, and the clarity of my awareness has developed in large part as a result of our collaboration.
I finally got home at 6 pm and began doing some of the legwork for the first PLT meeting, which is next Tuesday. Part of that task was downloading a Key & Peele video, The Substitute, But a foray on to the Key & Peele YouTube channel resulted in me watching video after video, and laughing more than I have in weeks. I highly recommend you do the same. Here’s my personal fave:
1) Teachers make a lot of decisions throughout the day. Sometimes we make so many it feels overwhelming. When you think about today, what is a decision/teacher move you made that you are proud of? What is one you are worried wasn’t ideal?
Since today wasn’t a teaching day, I didn’t really have any minute-to-minute decisions to make. In the workshop, I did my best to participate in a way that I would appreciate as a teacher, and to stay on task even when the direct instruction got a little looooong.
2) Every person’s life is full of highs and lows. Share with us some of what that is like for a teacher. What are you looking forward to? What has been a challenge for you lately?
Even though I would love a longer vacation, I am looking forward to digging in to the meat of the semester when we return. I was out sick the two days before the break, and was unhappy to break the momentum that had been building up in my classes this term.
3) We are reminded constantly of how relational teaching is. As teachers we work to build relationships with our coworkers and students. Describe a relational moment you had with someone recently.
I am attending this computer science workshop with two other math teachers from my school. My office is in a different part of the building than the main math office, it has been nice to spend some time with them. In particular, I have had the opportunity to reconnect a bit with a teacher (who has become the school programmer, a huge job in a school of 4,000 students) with whom I was quite close. Our paths have diverged, but we still enjoy each other’s company. That’s been a bonus of this week.
4) Teachers are always working on improving, and often have specific goals for things to work on throughout a year.
My goal has been to ‘see’ my students and develop better relationships with them. My work with Jose, and on my own, has been progressing; I am working with two other teachers to help form a social justice club at school, and continue to educate myself [and those around me] in undoing racism.
5) What else happened this month that you would like to share?