Math Power. Community Power?
What's your last conversation with a parent or friend over common core (or anything mathematics) been like? Let me guess..."I don't understand...I hate..." We all have had experience with the big machine of math improvement. New standards (think Common Core or Back to Basics or New Math). New textbooks and publications. New assessments. New teaching methods. New research. Many communities have encountered some for of this for years. Have these initiatives worked? That's another story.
This is not far fetched. A new UNCF study found (great summary here) potential in closing the "family engagement gap" by making connections with community leaders in comunity spaces. Most of my encounters in malls, grocery stores, church or in my apartment lobby with parents and friends lately have led me to this amazing revelation about mathematics reform in the community. I'm specifically interested in its impact and relationship with Black communities. Lately I've been thinking about how to radically change the way my colleagues and I try to "move" people in mathematics. It all started with this: What would happen if we started a math movement with Black mothers and fathers in community. Walk with me on this for a minute.
1. Build a Collective Community Vision (Collect the Hidden Voices)
The first order of business would be to gather community consensus. My experiences in my communities have convinced me that there are too many hidden voices (not just the movie kind) of Black teacher, church leaders, parents, community advocates that have a vested interest in our students' math success. Hidden because they were never included in the first instance, in the development of mathematics/STEM initiatives, curricula and programs. I know they exist because I am beginning to bump into an underground of small community math programs that I find inspiring - in churches and clubs, etc.
And then what if parents could create a powerful wishlist for the kinds of expectations they wanted every math teacher, every counselor, every college recruiter, and researcher to have for THEIR child for their entire schooling journey into adulthood. Imagine what this "my child's must haves" list would look like. It might mean that every child would have access to culturally relevant mathematics tasks (I will talk more about what this looks like later), textbooks that assisted parents in co-teaching, more resources around black, women and minority mathematics figures, history and career paths.
2. Build a Community-aligned mathematics pipeline.
Okay so I use the word pipeline to refer to a set of people-created programs, curriculum and pathways that students have unfettered access to (much like how a pipeline actually works), complete with safety valves, alternative routes, relevant exit points etc. What if communities had autonomous power to reorganize, and sequence what we have simply accepted as the responsibility of distant mathematics education academics. as school mathematics. Can you imagine a STEM focus on social justice, health, and economics. What if, as a result of listening to parents, Algebra was redefined to connect problems to community and the world. For example, I tweeted here on I think could be a NEW set of middle/high school math courses: 1 Mathematical Models in the Real World 2 Statistics and Social Change 3 Design, Shape and Space 4 Advanced Mathematical Modeling 5 Business and Entrepreneurial Calculus.
3. House the pipeline in community spaces.
Black communities have these amazing community spaces. I visit these spaces almost every day - my church, my barbershop, my local patty shop, community club.... They exist almost entirely outside of my professional life as a mathematics engager. They are great at 'gathering' people together. What if we housed more of this pipeline here. This creates an alternative, but potentially powerful space outside of schools, districts, and conferences to reach and engage learners in more comfortable, accepting environments. Lastly, they are where parents have equity.
So we find voices, craft programs from the community-up and then house these in safe community spaces. Easy enough. THEN, we connect successful programs to local schools, then district level. This sounds like a no brainer on paper, but it essentially would require one big concession from math educators and leaders - Trust in the Black community. Trust that Black communities have within their families, leaders and organization enough voices (hidden) to chart a viable mathematics reform movement for change. I'm hopeful.