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Race and Math Education

In this post I will share some thoughts about how we can reach towards equitable education for all of our students as well as work towards reconciliation.

Difficult Conversations…

I believe we need to educate ourselves on the true history of Canada and the systemic racism that is still embedded within our education system and other government systems. I know this is uncomfortable for many non-Indigenous people but without really understanding the impacts of colonialism – past and present – I’m not sure we’ll ever have an educational system that will be equitable.

I’m in the rabbit hole with this concept and am not an expert at all but think it’s important to share these ideas because it’s all too easy for non-Indigenous folks to ignore what’s going on because it doesn’t affect us directly and because we can. However, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) cannot ‘opt out’ because they face racism as a part of their lived experiences. Furthermore, if we don’t have a decent understanding of how our own worldviews differ from our students’ and how our lived experiences differ from theirs, then we are likely to have big blind spots in our teaching practices

Until quite recently, I had been completely ignorant and naive about racism in our society. It wasn’t until I read “White Fragility” that I even understood that racism is a system, not an act, and that most people misunderstand what racism and white supremacy mean. Since reading that book (which I highly recommend), I’ve been following a lot of teachers on Twitter, who are actively addressing the systemic racism that lies within the education system. If you read the last few blog posts I’ve written then you’re now already aware that there are different worldviews and that those have a big impact on learners.

Imagine you were educated in a system that promoted a totally different set of values to those of your culture? What would it feel like to be in a classroom, helping your friend understand a quiz so he can be successful and be called out for cheating, even though you’ve been taught from your family and community that the most important aspect of education is to help one another? How would it feel to be taught math using only symbols and abstractions when you’ve learned through experiential learning at home for your whole life and the symbols just don’t mean much to you? I’ve come to realize that we’ve been gearing our education system around Western worldview values. This feels to me like we’re continuing to colonize a group of people who have already been colonized almost to death (and many have been colonized to death).

I’m well aware that we are living in a time right now that is so noisy with political strife and racial wars that it makes it difficult to figure out what feels right or wrong. As I read parts of the Indian Act, the Truth and Reconciliation report, ‘An Inconvenient Indian’, ‘Unsettling the Settler Within’ and listening to podcasts like “All My Relations”, I have come to understand that I really had no idea what was really going on within our political system and education system in terms of the treatment of Indigenous peoples. It’s been eye opening and sobering to say the least and I have so much more to learn. I feel it’s my responsibility as someone who some people listen to (that’s you!) to speak about these issues. Understanding the history of our country will better equip us with the tools we need to educate all of our students in ways that acknowledge and respect their cultures. This is what I believe ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ is. There are so many big issues like these that I’m grappling with and will continue to explore.

If you’re anything like me, this may feel very overwhelming for you and you may be wondering “what can I do?” or “where do I start?”. I don’t have definitive answers for you as I’m just beginning my own learning but here are some suggestions:

  • Read the books I listed above
  • Share what other books, articles and podcasts we could read/listen to that will help educate us. I know we’re busy but summer break is coming up…maybe add a book or two into the rotation of your other ‘summer reads’.
  • Follow people on Twitter who are from different cultures, races and places than you. Here are a few that I follow that have offered me some significant insights: @NativeApprops‏, @apihtawikosisan ‏, @LBmathemagician ‏, @DingleTeach ‏, @ShanaVWhite ‏, @ValeriaBrownEdu ‏, @Mathgarden ‏, @YehCathery ‏,@Pam_Palmater , @NicoleBridge1 ‏, @beRealcoach 
  • Engage in these difficult conversations with others. I think we should be talking about this during staff meetings. I think we should be talking about racism with our students too but we need to be mindful and well enough educated to do so properly.
  • Seek out professional development opportunities that are geared towards equity
  • Read books written by Canadian Indigenous writers (I’ve really enjoyed the novels, memoirs and history books I’ve been reading and I feel like they give me a glimpse into a lived experience that is vastly different from my own, thus expanding my perspective, or the lens through which I see the world). Some that I’ve read recently are: ‘Monkey Beach’, ‘Johnny Appleseed’, ‘The Marrow Thieves’, ‘Indian Horse’ (I’ve loved all Richard Wagamese’s books). Here are some other suggestions: https://www.cbc.ca/books/108-indigenous-writers-to-read-as-recommended-by-you-1.4197475
  • Attend Indigenous community events (when public are welcome) – even when it feels scary being a minority as maybe experiencing this will be the best education we could ask for.

We can’t magically learn all we need to in any short amount of time so I look at this as a life-long, continuous journey. I intersperse these books with my other reading and will continue to do so. I’ve got a stack of books that I’m diving into next that were recommended to me by colleagues: ‘A Fair Country’, ‘Indigenous Writes’, ‘Potlatch as Pedagogy’, and ‘Tilly and the Crazy Eights’

Thank you for taking the time to read about these important issues. Please comment and share to continue this much needed conversation!

Note: I’ve given you some links to some of these books but many are also available through the public library, which is where I accessed some.

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