The Mathematics of Social Justice: Teaching Students to Identify, Analyze, and Combat Social Inequalities
Teacher, Boston Green Academy
|Project Description: Designing culturally relevant mathematics lessons that align with the Common Core State Standards is important in theory, yet challenging in practice. In this workshop, participants will learn how to 1) create provocative thematic units; 2) teach students how to identify, analyze, and combat social inequalities; and 3) evaluate students’ progress via performance- based assessments.
BLOG POST #1
|Biography: Julian McNeil, a national board certified teacher, leads the mathematics department at Boston Green Academy. As a tenacious, results-oriented teacher, Julian is committed to ensuring that all students, especially underrepresented minorities, graduate prepared to succeed in competitive four-year colleges and universities. Outside of the classroom, Julian is a design team member for BPS’ Accelerated Community to Teacher Program and recruiter for BPS’ Office of Human Capital. He also serves as a fellow for Teach Plus and Math for America.|
The recent atrocities and subsequent legal decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island sent shockwaves throughouth the country and incited fervent demonstrations in urban communities. Contentious hashtags, such as #blacklivesmatter, permeated social media and sparked heated debates on prime-time television for extended periods of time.
With so much national attention given to the cases in Ferguson and Staten Island, I found myself wondering how I could authentically address the issues and provide spaces for students to process, articulate, and manage their feelings in my classroom – a mathematics classroom. An email that one of my former student teachers sent me suggests that other teachers are struggling with the same problem. She writes,
“I hope this e-mail finds you well. I’m reaching out because I’ve still not mentioned anything about Ferguson in my classroom, and it’s mostly because I don’t know what I want to say or how to say it. My school has done nothing about Ferguson—not one email, nothing during our bi-weekly advisories, and no mention during our twice a week professional development meetings. […] I usually go for the path of least offense, but my silence is now being offensive, and I don’t know what to do.”
Largely because it is sometimes both taboo and uncomfortable to discuss social justice and race-relations in public arenas, her sentiments do not surprise me. In fact, I can relate to her. When I am asked to comment on similar issues in public, I sometimes experience a visceral reaction: my stomach contracts, my heart beats faster, and my worrying intensifies. I may ask myself: Am I qualified to speak on this topic? What will my comments lead others to think about me? Will I sound racist or insensitive?
As a teacher in the standards-based reform era, I face additional challenges when I lead discussions on social justice and race-relations in my classroom. I often wonder: What will my supervisor think if he walks in the classroom mid-discussion? What if the discussion does not align with the Common Core State Standards? What if I deviate too much from my curriculum map?
This project is designed to help me, and my colleagues, think through the aforementioned questions. Furthermore, it is designed to make delivering lessons on social justice easier for teachers, particularly mathematics teachers. Not only does it illuminate the life-long benefits of addressing social justice issues in the classroom, but also provides concrete suggestions for implementing thematic units and individual lessons.
The project draws heavily on curricula materials from a course, “The Mathematics of Social Justice,” that I teach each year at the Cambridge-Harvard Summer Academy.
The Mathematics of Social Justice Course Description: This interactive course requires you to use mathematics to identify, analyze, and combat social inequalities in your community. Alongside teachers and peers, you will investigate federal spending, employment wages, healthcare access, and racial profiling. Finally, you will give a public presentation on one of these topics as well as make policy and practice recommendations. As you may suspect, this course will be quite different from the other mathematics courses that you have taken. It requires you to be an active learner by thinking critically about social justice, examining issues from varied perspectives, generating new knowledge, and proposing solutions to complex problems in your community.
Please check back later for my second blog entry in which I will discuss planning a thematic unit, share instructional activities, and showcase student work.