Please, Stop Using Math as Your Bad Example

Ryan Davis

It’s inevitable.  Every time. I know it’s coming.  I’m listening to a speaker or reading an article about the need for education to make seismic shifts to adapt to changes in society and culture.  I’m nodding along in agreement, but I can feel it about to happen. There’s the call for relevance – yes… the need for student centered – yes… but then… “and we’re still teaching the Pythagorean Theorem.”  

There it is – without fail – the “mathematical anecdote”: a piece of content from math class cited as proof that schools are irrelevant or outdated (e.g. ‘they don’t teach kids taxes, but they spend weeks on systems of equations’ or ‘I had to memorize the quadratic formula, but never…’).  Even owning my own bias and passion for the discipline of mathematics, I would still wager that mathematics is used disproportionately as a negative example in such contexts. It’s like the shoe that keeps dropping. I usually agree with the bigger point being made, but the trope of the “mathematical anecdote” isn’t helping any of us. 

In fairness, I’ll start by acknowledging the culpability of mathematics educators in the overuse of the “mathematical anecdote.”  In general, we have held tighter to our cannon of formulas and skills than other disciplines, especially at the secondary level. We’ve moved perhaps more quickly than other subjects to gamify the content, create flashy activities, and dissect a complex curriculum into discrete skills that look good on administrative checklists.  We’re more likely to overly scaffold work so that student products have forms and symbols that look complex to outside observers, but do not require true depth of thought. We’re more likely to support systems of oppression through test-prep, than we are to acknowledge and advocate against the use of our discipline (even if a bastardized version of it) as a gatekeeper. 

Such moves garner mathematics educators short term praise and recognition that often elevate our stature within the school community but fail to make more transformative shifts, thus failing in any substantive way to address the specific criticism of the “mathematical anecdote.”  Those shortcomings acknowledged, the “mathematical anecdote” is most often used to make a broader point about the state of education as whole. In this, however, the “mathematical anecdote” actually undercuts its own intent of articulating a more transformative vision for schools, and should thus be abandoned.  

The “mathematical anecdote” is usually received with claps or nods of affirmation.  But, such responses are more likely reflections of cultural biases against math or personal anxieties about mathematics than they are positive reactions to a visionary framing of what schools could be. The “mathematical anecdote” serves more to reinforce a shared devaluing mathematics than to inspire support for new ideas.  In other words, it’s not helping make the right point.

Moreover, the “mathematical anecdote” typically affirms a utilitarian epistemology that undermines the deeper value of schools.  It corroborates a belief that the value of knowledge should be judged solely on its ability to produce something, usually for commercial or economic gain.  Yet, the enduring power of educations lies in its ability to inspire awe and wonder, to cultivate beauty in the spirit and the mind, and to unite and empower community.  Schools are not conveyor belts for producing workers, but rather igniters of passions so students can build a world better than we can imagine. The rhetoric of the “mathematical anecdote” obscures this more powerful and important view of schools.

Such rhetoric also reinforces negative conceptions about learning and evokes harmful power dynamics.  The “mathematical anecdote” is usually laced with technical jargon and a tone implying that mathematics is a rarefied subject, accessible only to a select few.  As educators, we should be evangelists for learning not dismissive of certain disciplines or affirming of their inaccessibility.

Most importantly, the “mathematical anecdote” belies the real root of the problem.  It implies that schools have simply identified the wrong body of knowledge to transmit to students, which can be addressed by simply identifying the “right” set of facts and skills to teach.  Of course, that immediately sets up an infinite game of catch up in which schools will always be behind. Actual transformation requires deeper, structural shifts away from a content-transmission model of education and toward empowering pedagogies that begin with students and communities. 

Of course, the point the “mathematical anecdote” seeks to make must still be made, and substituting with examples from other contents would only pose the exact same problems.  So, if you must cite an example, some alternatives:

  • Why are we still organizing days by a rigid bell schedule when we know learning doesn’t happen at or with in a predetermined time slot?
  • Why do we still divide coursework into content areas when we know that jobs and citizenship require an intersectional understanding of the world?
  • Why do our systems and policies still prioritize a content-transmission model of education when such a model is the least empowering to students and the most irrelevant in a digital age? 
  • Why are testing and grading still so central to our assessment of students when their limitations are almost universally acknowledged?

Admittedly, these pack less of a punch. But, they pack the right punch.  In “Don’t Think of An Elephant,” George Lakoff described how shared metaphors actually reinforce beliefs, even when we think we are explicitly negating them.  The use of the “mathematical anecdote” only reinforces traditional and outdated metaphors about schools. Mathematics educators (as all contents) certainly have work to do addressing the more specific critique of how our discipline is currently enacted in schools.  But, we are all in this together and to build a more transformative metaphor for what schools can be, we all have to start by removing the “mathematical anecdote” from our rhetoric. 

On Wednesdays We #WearRed4Ed and Contact Legislators to SUPPORT HB137 – Sports Betting

Today is #WearRed4Ed and Call Legislators Wednesday! 

We are asking that you CALL or EMAIL your legislators to ask that they SUPPORT HB137 – The Sports Betting Bill. You can use one of the following scripts below when you contact legislators. Find your legislators here.

Email:

Dear [Senator or Representative] ________________

Hello my name is ______________ and I am a [your position] and [local affiliate like JCTA] and KEA member living in your district. I’m writing to ask that you SUPPORT HB137. It’s time to put Kentucky first and create revenue using Sports Betting. Kentuckians already spend money on Sports Betting. It’s only right for our Kentucky dollars to stay in Kentucky. This revenue is essential for Kentucky to provide services necessary of state government. 

Thank you for your service!

_______________

Phone Call:

Be prepared to share your name and address. You can leave a message for ALL legislators or just yours. The Legislative Message Line is 1-800-372-7181.

I am calling to leave a message for ALL senators and representatives. I am asking that you SUPPORT HB137 to create new revenue for our commonwealth.

You can also use our Action Network link to contact legislators with just a few clicks!

Armed Officers in Schools

Tia Kurtsinger-Edison

I am extremely concerned over this Bill that seems to be targeted to the policing of black and Brown students.  The current security officer policy leaves it up to the district to determine whether they would like armed officers or not in their schools.  Currently, in JCPS there has been a push to remove police from our schools. We supported more restorative practices, trauma informed care, and mental health professionals.  

As a teacher of color, I understand the data has displayed that black and brown students receive more punitive consequences than white students, and we still have not addressed this issue.  I notice year after year our students are coming to us with this invisible backpack that is heavy, and I personally am not trained to effectively help my students. As a result the disproportionate consequence will continue.  

As a Black parent, I have to question the motive of lawmakers and leadership in education when it comes to the urban district student population.  Our kids do not and have not felt safe around armed police officers. My kids witness on the news and social media the mistreatment of a young black man recent graduate from Central high school and how he was treated when pulled over.  Just last weekend, we saw a man getting beat by LMPD on camera downtown. The district and state does not take the trauma of gun violence seriously. They want to tell us how to feel, when in reality, they should be listening to parents and teachers of color.  Trauma informed practices teaches us that guns can trigger the student suffering, yet we are now forcing them to see this every day. The JCBE policy board just met Tuesday and the discussion was two magazines versus three magazines. Sitting in the audience and listening to it was triggering listening to a table of jcps leadership rationale the use of three magazines by saying what if it jams and then the second one jams.  

Fact is mass school shooting does not  occur in urban school districts; over policing of black and brown students does.  

I support districts having the choice to decide if they want their police officers armed or not.  What is the answer when you have a whole school trained in trauma informed care because the students in the school live in a district that has high frequencies of gun violence, and your training says guns are a trigger are we intentionally triggering those students.  Can the district even identify which students are traumatized by gun violence, and if they can’t then this is all just lip service because they really do not care which students to help. Moreover, this is child neglect by the state and local school district and I will advocate parents to figure out what we need to do to charge the state and district with child neglect.

Again, history tells us that modern day policing grew out of the slave patrols and for decades, to this day, there is often an overlap between police and racist terror groups like the Klan. Only today, many of those racists don’t wear white sheets or blue uniforms, they wear camouflage gear and carry semi-automatic rifles, to which we must ask, “to what end?”. Our survival depends on the answer.

This is institutionalized racism at its best out black and brown children will be the ones to suffer at the hands of officers and who is already afraid of them. I am a teacher, mother, step daughter of Bishop Dennis V. Lyons, and Aunt of JCPS students and I will pull my kids and campaign for our community to pull their kids and we home school until they get this fixed. 

This is not to control a shooter situation it to control our babies with fear and our request is to allow the local district to make the decision of having armed officers in their Schools.

So you want to go to Frankfort

Emilie McKiernan Blanton

We are over a third of the way into the Kentucky 2020 General Assembly and we’ve had multiple members up every week to lobby on behalf of public education in Kentucky. As an educator, you can use personal days in order to attend session in Frankfort to watch or meet with legislators. In addition to Frankfort, you can always contact legislators at home in your district or through phone and email. Speaking directly with elected officials who represent you is the best way to help shape policy that affects public education.

If you find yourself in Frankfort or meeting with a legislator, there’s 10 Golden Rules to follow when it comes to lobbing.

1. POLITICS IS CONSUMER-DRIVEN

Help your legislator understand why your position is important to his or her constituents. Fight where the legislator lives through grassroots organizations at home.

2. DO YOUR HOMEWORK

Know your stuff. Understand your issue, the bill you support or oppose, and the legislative process before you approach your legislator. Know who the players are, who decides what, and which issues are hot at the moment.

3. INFORMATION IS POWER

The secret is the distribution of information to legislators and their constituents. Be prepared to give the legislator information he or she can use, including what you are hearing from other legislators and from people back home.

4. A LITTLE PROFESSIONALISM GOES A LONG WAY

Be credible, honest and trustworthy. Never threaten, lie or conceal facts. Stay calm — if you lose your cool, you lose the case.

5. BE POSITIVE

Always make your case without being critical of others’ personalities or motives.

6. THERE ARE NO PERMANENT FRIENDS AND NO PERMANENT ENEMIES

Don’t take your traditional friends for granted. Never write off a legislator just because of party affiliation. Don’t make enemies of legislators — you may need them as friends in the future.

7. BUILD A BOND, NOT A GAP

Research things you might have in common with the legislator. Use shared values to create easy, friendly, frequent communication with legislators.

8. BE A PARTNER

Build coalitions and look for allies among other organizations. Be accessible to legislators and other lobbyists if they have questions or need follow-up information. Become known as a reliable resource.

9. ROME WASN’T BUILT IN A DAY

Aim for consensus rather than for a “victory.” Be willing to settle for making progress toward your goal, getting the bill passed, and fine-tuning it in future sessions.

10. STAY COMMITTED

Remember — you are the expert!! You have a compelling, energizing reason to keep fighting until you get what you need.

Be sure to keep up-to-date using our Legislative Action Center. We have a page for bill summaries for legislation that will affect teachers and students. You can even find scripts to use for bills we have highlighted on #WearRed4Ed Wednesdays.

On Wednesdays We #WearRed4Ed and Call to SUPPORT Governor Beshear's Education First Budget

Today is #WearRed4Ed and Call Legislators Wednesday! 

We are asking that you CALL or EMAIL your legislators to ask that they SUPPORT Governor Beshear’s education first funding. Use one of the following scripts below when you contact legislators.

Email:


Dear [Senator or Representative] ________________

Hello my name is ______________ and I am a [your position] and [local affiliate like JCTA] and KEA member living in your district. I’m writing to ask that you support Governor Beshear’s education first funding. A meaningful increase in the SEEK formula will be integral in supporting the educational opportunities for our students. Giving teachers a one time pay increase will help with the teacher attrition crisis.

Thank you for your service!

[No time to write?  Click here to send an email.]

_______________

Phone Call:

Be prepared to share your name and address. You can leave a message for ALL legislators or just yours.

I am calling to leave a message for ALL senators and representatives. I am asking that you SUPPORT Governor Beshear’s education first funding in the budget and seek new sources of revenue.

On Wednesdays We #WearRed4Ed and OPPOSE HB350 – The Backdoor Voucher Bill

Today is #WearRed4Ed and Call Legislators Wednesday! 

UPDATE:

Public schools need your help! Legislators are getting dozens of contacts from people who support HB 350 and want to siphon off public education funding and give it to private religious schools. We urge you to contact your legislators daily and tell them to protect public school funding by voting NO on HB 350.


Click here to send legislators an email or call 1-800-372-7181 and leave the following message for ALL legislators:


“I am calling to leave a message for ALL senators and representatives. I am asking that you OPPOSE HB350 and any attempt to create Vouchers or Scholarship Tax Credits.”

Thank you for taking the time out of your day to be an advocate for public education. Together we can make a difference!
https://actionnetwork.org/letters/tell-your-legislators-say-no-the-hb-350?source=direct_link&

We are asking that you CALL or EMAIL your legislators to ask that they OPPOSE HB350- The Backdoor Voucher Bill. Use one of the following scripts below when you contact legislators. Find your legislators here.

Email:

Dear [Senator or Representative] ________________

Hello my name is ______________ and I am a [your position] and [local affiliate like JCTA] and KEA member living in your district. I’m writing to ask that you OPPOSE HB350. Vouchers or Scholarship Tax Credits don’t actually help low income students. Instead they take money desperately needed to provide services required of state government.  

Thank you for your service!

_______________

Phone Call:

Be prepared to share your name and address. You can leave a message for ALL legislators or just yours. The Legislative Message Line is 1-800-372-7181.

I am calling to leave a message for ALL senators and representatives. I am asking that you OPPOSE HB350 and any attempt to create Vouchers or Scholarship Tax Credits.

The Census is coming

Tammy Berlin

The Census is coming.  Are you ready?

The 2020 census is THE most important thing that will happen this year.  Why you ask? The data collected during the census will help determine Congressional districting and federal funding levels for housing, healthcare, transportation, employment, and public education for the next ten years.  With $675 Billion in federal funding at stake, it’s crucial that we get a fair and accurate count of every person.  

The 2010 count came up short.  

An estimated 1 million pre-school aged children were undercounted during the last census.  Those children are in our public schools now, and our schools are not receiving the federal funding allotment for them.  Undercounting our children, especially our pre-school children, is a costly mistake that we cannot afford.  

How can we make sure that every child is counted?  

We need every family to fill out their census form.   Filling out the census is safe and confidential. Federal law protects your census responses.  The information you provide can only be used to compile statistics. Your information may not be shared with immigration or law enforcement agencies, and it may not be used to determine your eligibility for government benefits.  

How and when will the Census take place?

Census forms will be mailed to every US address beginning on March 1, 2020.  You can complete your census using the standard mail-in form, you can complete it online at http://www.2020census.gov, or you can complete it by phone.   Beginning April 9, In-Field Address Canvassers will begin door-to-door canvassing of residences that have not yet responded to the census. These In-Field Address Canvassers will be available to assist you in person if you have trouble filling out your census.  

How can educators get involved?  

  • Participate in SIS Week:  As teachers, you can educate children and parents about the importance of the 2020 Census.  You can be part of the national Get Out the Count movement by participating in Statistics in Schools week, March 2 – 6.  Visit https://www.census.gov/schools to find materials and activities you can use in your classroom.  Now’s the time to plan ahead. How will you teach your students about the census?  
  • Enter the SIS Sweepstakes for a chance to win $500:  Kentucky Youth Advocates is excited to announce the second Statistics in Schools Sweepstakes, a free and easy way for Kentucky teachers to help their school win $500 by using the U.S. Census Bureau’s Statistics in Schools (SIS) materials during the Bureau’s SIS Week (March 2-6, 2020). Four $500 checks will be given to winning schools – one for a Preschool/Kindergarten program, one for grades 1-5, one for grades 6-8, and one for grades 9-12. An additional $500 prize will be awarded to a Jefferson County public school that utilizes the Bureau’s ELL materials.  All you have to do to enter is submit photos or videos of your students using the SIS materials during SIS Week (March 2-6, 2020).  
  • Be a Census Ambassador:  Census Ambassadors promote the 2020 Census and network with other educators to help them understand how to use the SIS materials and participate in Statistics in Schools week.  Kentucky is still looking for Census Ambassadors. Find out how to become an Ambassador by emailing CLMSO.SISambassador@census.gov.

For more information as it becomes available, follow us on the VOTE blog at https://edvotejcta.com/we-count-kentucky/.