Instructional Strategies

An Invitation and a Demand for Equity in Mathematics

I heard a refreshing voice today. One that silenced the annoying diatribe I have encountered so many times in the past regarding the mathematics dilemma. (Caution: A moment of personal trajectory coming in 3…2…) As an African-American womyn, I am twice marginalized by the discipline of mathematics, and yet access to it has catapulted me to levels of privilege that would not have been afforded to me otherwise. So in a way, mathematics changed my life experience. For this reason, alone I am always driven by the idea of providing students access to rich mathematical experiences; opportunities for them to value this domain and see the beauty and power in it.
As a teacher, I would be troubled any role that I had in inadvertently closing a door to a student by denying access to rigor, interest, and discovery. Yet I have done it and have witnessed it being done systematically through direct lecture, meaningless worksheet overload, and irrelevant tasks. I have seen mathematics illustrated as a procedural knowledge reserved for the logical few, and it is everything but this.
During its annual conference this year, NCTM (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics) unveiled their new masterpiece, Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All. In a powerful talk today Steven Leinwand called the book “ invitation, and a demand,” and charged teachers, coaches, and administrators to “read it, annotate it, quote it, and then read it again!” He referred to this document as ammunition, but remarked that it would be useless if teachers and school leaders fail to go out and create action plans that can effect change. Unlike previous attempts to focus our attention on principles and standards of good teaching, Leinwand suggests that this book does more than provide a focus; it provides key actions to be considered in implementing a change in the way we teach mathematics.
As I listened I wondered about, how many conferences we have to attend, how many books we have to read, how many disappointing experiences we have to endure in order to decide to take action? What will those actions be? What will those actions be based on? In the discipline of mathematics, the need to take specific actions is not a new idea. We have known that disparities in participation exist. We have known that learning gaps exist and persist. We have known that access to powerful mathematics has not been equitable. Still, we have not acted! This means that marginalized groups continue to be underserved as gender and race gaps widen.
We have known that access to powerful mathematics has not been equitable. Click To Tweet
The book was only released yesterday and when I went to get a copy from the exhibit hall they were out of stock, so I have yet to read it. Therefore, this article is in no way meant to promote or summarize the book’s content. However, My intent was to force a spotlight on the catalyst for a book like this. I wanted to challenge any reader to make this book different. If not, then it will just be another intellectual accolade on the shelf. So, I invite you to read this book along with me, and hope that it demands you to act! Conceive of this book as a tool, use it to change your practice, the classroom experience, and possibly one child’s life.

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