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Reflections on Math and Inclusion

July 7, 2018

Note: I’m at a conference so these are raw reactions and thoughts more to come:

Thank you to Annie Perkins who wrote a great article (required reading here). And thank you to Marian Dingle for encouraging me to write this post.

After reading Annie Perkins' work, my first thought is this: when we discuss the "achievement gap" it might be useful for us to reframe this as a "slavery/civil rights gap.”  That is a tough sell for white educators, because it challenges us to come face to face with the impact of civil rights and slavery on today's educational landscape.  We don't like this connection.  We desire to look at our current environment in a social vacuum devoid of the past.  We haven't had to confront our past often.  When it comes to education, we don’t often talk about the concept of an educational inheritance within a family. Not only was there a financial impact to slavery and civil rights, there was an educational impact. My parents were educated, their parents were educated, and that has pushed me further along than those who had little to no access to education. Calling it an achievement gap erases what caused the gap in the first place; my people. White Men.

Second thought; to me, this next point is super critical. Our perceptions (and the media’s portrayal) of Black folx being less intelligent is part of the machine that keeps white supremacy propped up. We believe black folx just haven’t worked hard, and calling it an achievement gap significantly feeds into this narrative. The bootstrap mentality is strong with my people. I still do work within myself to dismantle it when it creeps into my paradigm.

Third thought: the stuff around brown vs board was incredibly eye opening. As often happens, I grew up believing Brown vs board was just another altruistic thing we as white folx did to show how amazing we are, how benevolent we are, and how much we’ve progressed so please don’t associate us with our past. Please? I need to dig more into this, not because I don’t believe what I am being told, but because I need to know all the things I’ve learn subconsciously around this topic and how it has shaped my current worldview.

I knew the white community has been vindictive towards black folx throughout history, I just never considered brown vs board was a part of it. Just another way I’ve grown up in a racist pool and I will never be dry. I do, however, have hope to continue to dry off.

Blocking a course being taught so white schools could catch up is lockstep in line with the issue within education today. We compare students by age, and ignore strengths and areas for learning of each student. This creates a gap to begin with. I knew this was a paradigm (teaching to the ones who need the most remediation) but I had never considered it being used back in the day to hold entire schools back; just so white schools could keep up. That was mind blowing. I wonder if there was a school out there who was predominantly white. And a black student succeeded, how they would be treated. Oh wait. I already know: https://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/news/2018/07/03/u-prep-valedictorian-speech-jaisaan-lovett-lovely-warren-munno/754959002

The damage of slavery, then segregated schools, then holding black schools back so white schools could catch up? That created a starting line that was not very even for when no child left behind came around. This quote from Annie Perkins stands out: “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 loss of generations of educational inheritance is significant. I mean, this is why we focus in higher education around first generation college students; we recognize the negative impact on their success because of this.

Fourth: the stuff around data hit me. I love data and assessment. That we don’t often (if ever) study black students as a population on their own is a travesty. I haven’t done all the research, but see the impact on framing research around comparing white and black students. For me, this is such a critical piece when I talk to people when they try to say racism doesn’t exist. I will ask them to explain grad rates, and they are often flummoxed to explain it. I share; we have a few choices for the narrative in our head; one, the system was built for one group of people to succeed and continues to marginalize a different group impacting this gap. Two, the system is neutral, and white students got a head start because of the educational inheritance of their families before them, and we are unwilling to hold white students back so black students can catch up. Three, the system is neutral and black kids and white kids are born into a totally post-racial society, and the gap is caused by problems within the black community. One of those choices is bigotry. Two of those choices is racism by proxy to complacency.

Fifth; as a math major, I understand the impact of pop culture references in a math classroom. If I don’t understand the references, the teaching doesn’t make sense. Often pop culture references enhance a concept. Might as well try to teach math using Klingon. (Star Trek reference used to make two points at the same time...for those of you who are stark trek fans, we just bonded. For those of you aren’t, we just separated, because you understand I made a reference, but you were on the outside). As white folx we DO NOT like being on the outside. We DEMAND explanations to things we don’t understand. We aren’t ok just “not knowing.” We often think “google is beneath us.” We shouldn’t have to google what you just said to understand it.

Just a few quick thoughts. What about you? Any thoughts? 

 

 

 

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