NCTM’s Affiliate Leadership Conference was held in July. There were many great sessions and like all the conferences I have ever attended with NCTM it was high quality and very interesting. The theme this year was, Courageous Actions in Leadership: Turning Talk into Meaning.
There were several presentations on a wide variety of topics around leadership, but I want to focus on two sessions.
Social Justice in Mathematics Teaching and Learning
The first session that was very thought provoking for me was the session by Dr. Robert Berry, Past President of NCTM and the Samuel Braley Gray Professor of Mathematics Education, and Associate Dean of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion at the University of Virginia. He started out his session titled ‘Social Justice in Mathematics Teaching and Learning’ with a discussion on the difference between social justice and equity. This was a great discussion for me as I wasn’t sure that I knew the difference. This is the definition that Robert shared with us.
- Access: Ensure access to and the fair distribution of human and material resources.
- Participation: Creating equitable opportunities for people to access information to be fully participatory in decisions that affect their and others’ lives.
- Empowerment: Supporting people’s sense of urgency in taking advantage of opportunities society affords as well as working toward eliminating all forms of oppression.
- Human Rights: Acknowledging the rights inherent to each human being. Human rights include: the right to life and liberty, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of opinion, and the right to work and education (United Nations, 2006).
So, it seems that Social Justice is much broader than just equity and that equity comes under the umbrella of social justice. What does this have to do with education? This quote from his book Mathematics Lessons to Explore, Understand, and Respond to Social Injustices gives us an idea of why this is so important.
“Teaching Math for Social Justice (TMSJ) is much more than the lessons teachers might implement in their classrooms. It is about the relationships they build with and among students; the teaching practices that help them do that; and the goals to develop positive social, cultural, and mathematics identities—as authors, actors and doers.” (p.23)
Robert tells us that by using mathematics to respond to social injustice we can
- Build an informed society;
- Connect mathematics with students’ cultural and community histories as valuable resources;
- Empower students to confront and solve real-world mathematics as a tool to confront unjust contexts, and
- Help students learn to use mathematics as a tool for democracy and creating a more just society. These points really hit home for me. If we teach with these goals in mind, we will be creating a better world for everyone.
Facilitating Transformative Conversations about Race in Education
The next session was by Jessica Stovall. Jessica Stovall is a doctoral candidate in the Race, Inequality, and Language in Education (RILE) program at Stanford University. She has received the Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching grant, the Stanford Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (EDGE) Fellowship, and the Ford Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship. Before Stanford, she taught English for 11 years in the Chicagoland area, and her racial equity work is featured on the Starz 10-part documentary series America to Me.
Jessica’s session used video clips from the America to Me series to spark conversation around racial inequities. She would show us a clip from the series and then put us into small groups to discuss the racial inequities shown in the clip. Each clip had its own questions. This sparked some very interesting discussions. People in the group noticed things that I didn’t notice, and I noticed things they didn’t. It really helped to bring awareness to issues that I didn’t realize were there. Sometimes we are so busy living life that we don’t stop to reflect on what is happening around us and we miss a lot of things. Jessica’s goal with this presentation was to give us the tools to start a conversation in our own schools and communities. This website, Participant, has the tools to start these discussions. I would encourage you to peruse this site and find all the tools that are available to you. The video clips and well as discussion guides are there for you to use.
President, Iowa Council of Teachers of Mathematics