Math + Social Justice

It’s almost the end of my summer vacation for 2020…. 2020, what a dumpster fire. The world was rocked first by … well, where do I even begin?! The fires in Australia, the worldwide spread of CoVid19, the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Flyod (just to name a few). These deaths reigniting the Black Lives Matter Movement (which was always burning, but is now burning with fervor). I had already begun some self-inspection on what it means to be white. In 2018, while I was still living in Bangkok, I joined a group to read and discuss White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo and started recognizing racism beyond the overt actions of individuals.

However, throughout the summer of 2020, being essentially home bound, trying to do my best to not be one of the people spreading CoVid19, I have focused more on learning about race, systematic racism and have begun to think about what I can do to bring about change. I have been part of four different virtual discussion groups. One examining the Scene-on-Radio podcast Seeing White, another that is discussing So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Olue, the third started by my dear friend Damianne where we discuss Ruha Benjamin‘s Race After Technology and finally one I started to try to connect all of this with teaching math. I put out a call on Twitter and sent out an email to math colleagues around the world that I’d worked with and we ordered and started discussing High School Mathematics Lessons to Explore, Understand and Respond to Social Injustice.

First of all, I have to admit that I’m scared. I said as much to my group last night. I’m scared of push back from parents and students… “but you’re supposed to be teaching them math, you don’t have time to spend on anything else.” I’m about to start at a new school, so I don’t have a feel yet for the administration and how supportive they’ll be. Fear aside, I’m also excited. Reading chapter 3 where math and social justice standards were listed side by side got me thinking about starting the school year (digitally) and how I can best get to know my students. As I read through the Teaching Tolerance (2016) Social Justice Standards for 9-12 graders I was grading myself… (Exceeding, Meeting, Needing Improvement)

Self assessment against Social Justice Standards

Having students perform their own self-assessment could be a good introduction to including social justice in the mathematics course. Continuing on the theme of getting to know students while also bringing in some of the work from this book, we discussed how the first example lesson could help with this. The lesson, titled The Mathematics of Transformational Resistance is built off a 2001 article by Solórzano and Delgado Bernal. Mathematically it gives students a new framework for the quadrants of a Cartesian plane. In terms of social justice, it guides students towards creativity in action as well as consideration of diverse experiences. I took the lesson and created a Desmos Activity for it (of course I did). We’ll be discussing it as group the next time we meet to tune it up some more. But, at least I’ve made a start.

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