“There must be acknowledgement of the unjust system of mathematics education, its legacy in segregation and other forms of institutional systems of oppression, and the hard work needed to change it.”
-NCSM and TODOS
As President and President-Elect of NCSM: Leadership in Mathematics Education, we are deeply concerned about the well-being of our colleagues, mathematics leaders, and those we serve across North America. Our careers have been dedicated to making mathematics accessible and successful for all students, regardless of their gender, race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status.
For decades, we have taught classes and served mathematics teachers amidst a backdrop of racial and ethnic violence, most recently including Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and now George Floyd.
We hear the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who described rioting as the language of the unheard. As a mathematics leader, how are we providing a voice to the unheard?
It begins when we as members of NCSM advocate for policies, practices, and routines that stop racism and hate. How can we be advocates for making meaningful mathematics accessible to all students when we continue to support mechanisms such as tracking, ability grouping, limited interventions, or structures that do not develop self-efficacy for every child?
Hate and white supremacy, as Larson and Berry (2017) have said, have no place in our schools. We cannot claim to care for students of color, particularly Black students, in our schools and classrooms if we do not work to keep them safe when they are both in and out of school.
We wholeheartedly embrace NCSM’s mission and vision that all students should have access to high-quality instruction and post-secondary educational opportunities. We acknowledge that many factors exist that can hinder student access and success. Part of that success includes students finding their own identity and self-efficacy as part of learning mathematics. Today, we acknowledge that systemic inequities exist, creating barriers to students’ access to high-quality mathematics teaching and learning.
As members of NCSM, we learn alongside many of our peers and colleagues. We recognize that white members of our mathematics education community have benefited from systems that endow privileges solely because of the color of their skin. Today, and every day moving forward, as mathematics education leaders, we must seek out strategies to leverage that privilege to the benefit of our colleagues and students of color.
What can mathematics education leaders do?
We search for, erase, and intentionally dismantle systems that place our students of color and their families at risk.
Mathematics leaders can listen to the experiences of our colleagues of color. We must seek to learn from them and work alongside them to change the culture of our classrooms and our schools as all of our members learn what it means to be anti-racist and actively oppose racist systems, structures, and beliefs.
Mathematics leaders can ask the tough questions. As we examine structures in our schools, who benefits from the existing structure? Who is left behind? How does this structure move us forward in our pursuit of equitable access to high-quality mathematics? What are our beliefs? How can we work together to change those beliefs?
Rarely has the call to work for equity and social justice been so loud. The pausing of our world for a biological pandemic affords us with a unique opportunity to build systems anew. The cry of our fellow citizens in the streets of Minneapolis, Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, Louisville, Milwaukee, Buffalo, and across the country should be heard.
May each of our members cease the systemic and dangerous practices and routines that are detrimental to the learning of all children as we begin working today to build more just and equitable systems, especially for our children of color.
This is the hope we provide and the action we must take.
Mona Toncheff and Paul Gray
President and President Elect of NCSM: Leadership in Mathematics Education