Bending The Arc December 2020

A Social Justice Newsletter for Educators

"I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."[64]  - Theodore Parker, 19th C. Transcendenatlist and abolitionist.

Let's bid 2020 farewell and good riddance! *

Welcome to the end of a tumultuous and exhausting year. I realize that it's not necessarily the shift of the calendar that brings about change, but at least symbolically we have a way to step across a divide, apply a different label and imagine ourselves in a new year, a different time.

As I continue to think about this newsletter and what service it can and might provide, I'm constantly weighing my choices. Which books, articles, podcasts? Whose research, initiative, or curriculum? For the next months I will emphasize teacher learning to a greater degree than classroom specific add-ons. One realization that I keep coming back to is that in our attempts to build social justice awareness and knowledge in our learning communities, children are not the barriers, but adults often are.

In offering a social justice newsletter for educators, I want to be more explicit about my intent. The suggestions I make here are designed for adults - teachers, parents, community members - to grow their understanding of and support of social justice which Professor Khyati Joshi defines as initiatives that "aim to create a more equitable environment for all." That process requires taking social identities and positionality with regards to power into deep and careful consideration all the time. That's a challenge. It takes practice. This newsletter offers voluntary workouts, if you will.

Bring on the math.

When it comes to social justice, STEM fields are often left out of the conversation. And yet there are lots of educators working feverishly to remedy that state. Today I want to train our attention on some equity-minded math teachers who also produce a weekly newsletter: The Global Math Department.

In a recent GMD newsletter, Melvin Peralta describes slow reveal graphs as a way of unpacking the connections between the numbers we hear and phenomena going on around us.
"...there is nothing inherently objective about numbers. Numbers are always accompanied by a regime of perception that makes some things “make sense” and other things unrecognizable. For instance, consider how a “1% fatality rate” can make the world look a certain way depending on how you think about it while also hiding information about issues such as race and class."

Consider, too, Indigenous ways of knowing and doing math in the trailer for the film "Navajo Math Circles." Visit the film's website and investigate these short features on the lives of some of the main characters.

Trailer for "Navajo Math Circles" Directed by George Paul Csicsery

Math educator, Sunil Singh provides numerous links and resources on a broader and more inclusive telling of mathematics history. He has many articles to choose from but this one, How To Begin Bringing Rich and Inclusive Math History Resources Inside K to 12 Classrooms includes links to his other works.

And this podcast with Marian Dingle and Greg Curran, "Looking At The World In Mathematical Ways" is a wonderful listen for teachers of all levels.

A word about holidays...

To close us out, I realize that it's December and many folks find themselves in the throes of holiday preparations. Many, yes, but not all. To that end, I encourage all of us to spend some time with this set of critical questions by author and researcher, Alex Shevrin Venet regarding holidays and schools. Here are a couple of examples:

  • "How do we balance honoring and celebrating students/families/teachers and their cultural and religious values with a commitment to inclusion for all and not preferencing one culture over another?

  • How are teachers incorporating holidays into classes? Are teachers incorporating this in an educational and culturally responsive way, or do they perpetuate a preference for the dominant culture’s holidays?

Example: math word problems themed around how many Christmas presents Timmy can buy with X amount of money, vs. an educational piece around how Christmas is celebrated in different cultures and what that means in reference to our learning goals."

As I learned again at the recent National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference, if we're entirely comfortable, then we're probably not doing social justice.

I wish all of us a safe winter break. Happy holidays if you celebrate and Happy New year to all!

Be well,

*I'm sure some good things happened for us in 2020 despite the challenges. Please know that I celebrate those moments with you even if I will not be sad when this year is finally behind us. [Insert *relief emoji*]