I kept putting off starting this blog because I couldn’t muster the energy to introduce myself and tell people what I’m all about. Which I guess is what a first blog post is supposed to be about. Then I realized, I’ve never done things “the way they’re supposed to be done”, so why would I start now…? So I’m just going to start here. Wherever I am today and share what’s on my heart. If you already know me, you’ll understand where this is coming from. If you don’t know me, but want to, you’ll follow along and eventually understand. If you don’t know me and are here to judge me or whatever else, okay, I don’t need to explain myself to you either. So I guess the conclusion is, here is my first post. Think of it what you like:
I love math. I love teaching. I love people. I love God. I love justice. All of these things are intertwined with one another, believe it or not. Many people tell me I have a strange relationship with math, because I speak about math as though it is somehow human.
One time a student said to me, “Ms. Shirude, why do you teach math?” I responded by saying “Because Math is LIFE.” I meant it mostly as a joke because the students at the time had been messing around saying “______ is life!!!” all week. I don’t remember what the pop culture context for this was anymore. But I really do believe that statement.
Math is EVERYWHERE. Literally. Like, I don’t know how anyone can go through their life and not see math. But then I realized, I think I look at math very differently than others do. I believe this is what makes me so uniquely qualified to do what I do (teaching & writing “woke” math). I find that it is this perspective, not my degrees, careers, or how many books I’ve read that makes my students also start to love this subject.
Also, I love to tell stories. Everything I talk about has the context of a story. Even my lessons. Every unit starts with a story. Every lesson starts with a story. Every conversation I have with a student, becomes a story. Just like math, STORIES are everywhere.
This is why I believe math and ethnic studies fit together so well. Both are parts of daily human life, every single day. When I hear reluctance with incorporating ethnic studies into mathematics, it is often from teachers and others who would like to focus on teaching methods over meaning. While there is a time and place for methods in a math classroom, I believe centering ourselves in meaning and stories gives life to what is seemingly (historically would be a better word, if it weren’t still the case today) a lifeless topic.
Let me be clear, I am NOT suggesting that we do not teaching methods in math class. In fact, without methods, we would not understand math as well as we do. Methods are what allows us to have common language and understanding around steps to arrive at a problem. In graduate school, we had an entire course series called “math methods”. Granted, I didn’t feel like I learned much from this course series given there were only 2 math educators in my cohort… *story for another time*
Methods are important. However, we do not need to center methods in class. We need to center stories. By centering stories in math class, we center humanity. When we center humanity we bring life back to mathematics.
Every single day, I hear at least one person say “I’m not a math person”. OMG. STOP IT. I hate this phrase. And I know so many math educators who do as well. But what’s the point of hating it, if we don’t look at why so many people say this? Given that, I decided to start asking people in my life (coworkers, friends, family, strangers) why they felt like they weren’t “a math person”. The most common response I get is, I just don’t like it or I don’t know, it just never really clicked for me. Being an educator, I, of course, have a follow up question to their response. Which classes did click for you? I hear a range from history to art to science to PE. When I ask why, they say things such as because I get to talk to my friends or I like expressing my thoughts or it’s interesting/fun to see things work.
The best part of teaching ethnic studies in math class is that students get the opportunity to feel connection with math. If you read those responses, you can see that each person is sharing their connection with the content! The students who have not liked math or even hated it, now have an opportunity to see their humanity in it. After all, it is only when you dehumanize something that you can be so cruel to hate it, or worse yet, erase its existence from your mind.
So, no more of this “I’m not a math person” bullshit. Let’s start re-humanizing the math classroom to build a love and passion for mathematics and in turn, for humanity.