Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It's Hard To Teach When Drowning In Politics

FLG realizes it's not a simple binary trade off between good, effective education and politics/social engineering, but there is a trade off.

Via Prof. Mondo, FLG learns of this craziness:
the achievement gap is a social construction, that equity in mathematics means much more than mere access to a rigorous curriculum, and that teaching is a negotiated practice (with students, parents, and others). Gutiérrez argues that a model of knowledge needed for teaching mathematics and addressing equity involves political knowledge. An important component to developing this political knowledge is being able to recognize multiple realities (Nepantla), developing conocimiento with students, becoming comfortable with uncertainty, and seeing tension as a means to birth new knowledge.

And then there's this part about the grant the speaker has been awarded that seeks "to understand what it takes to develop high school mathematics teachers who engage their students in rigorous mathematics and are committed to social justice."

FLG immediately wondered what the fuck that means. Why the fuck are we talking about social justice at all when it comes to math? Can't a teacher who cares about all of his or her students and wants them all to do well and is skilled in teaching fucking math enough?

Unlike most conservatives, FLG doesn't immediately blow these things off as the product of some pervasive liberal conspiracy in academia and especially education shcools.. Well, at least not always. So, he decided to do some more research. Here's the speaker's webpage at U of Illinois:
My current research focuses upon understanding the development of teacher practice and teaching communities that achieve equity in students' mathematics participation and achievement. I strive to situate teacher practice in a socio-cultural and political context of schooling and broader society. I am currently involved in three related research projects. The first project attempts to understand how a partnership between the mathematics department in a Chicago high school and a group of pre-service teachers at the University of Illinois influences the dispositions and practices of those (pre- and inservice-) teachers and their students. A second project is a year-long case study of 2 "secundarias" (middle schools) in Mexico, one of which has a long standing tradition of strong teacher community and student advancement and the other is a more traditional/individualistic teacher environment. The goals of that project are to undertand some of the cultural practices in mathematics teaching in Mexican secondary schools, as well as some of the relationships and tensions between teacher community and individual teacher practice. The third research project is more theoretical in its approach and builds upon the work of scholars in Latina/Latino Studies, specifically the notion of "Nepantla" and "conocimiento" in the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, in order to help reconceptualize what might count as knowledge for equity teaching. A long term goal is to understand what it takes to build equity-based teacher communities in places where they do not already exist.

Okay, if we sit back and think about it for a little bit, "achievement" is a social construct insofar as society needs to decide what "achievement" is. And if you think about it a little harder, then you begin to realize that the way in which this construction happens is socio-cultural and political.

If this were part of the discussion around teaching other subjects, then FLG might be more sympathetic; however, we're talking about math here. A student either knows how to divide, subtract, multiple, derive, integrate, etc, etc or the student doesn't. It's not so much "achievement" as achievement, therefore, when it comes to math. We don't want an engineer calculating the force on a airplane wing based given the socio-cultural influences of his background on the social construction of his perception of fluid dynamics. No multiple realities there. So, FLG thinks we can dismiss the idea that "the achievement gap is a social construction." As FLG said, one can think of it that way, but it doesn't get you anywhere outside of the Ivory Tower. It's a theoretical distinction with little to no applicability. The classic pointy-headed professor stuff.

But, FLG does, there's might be something to the idea that the social construction of the pedagogy of mathematics teaching could disadvantage minorities. Don't get FLG wrong, he doesn't think there's a lot to that, just that there could be something. For example, the dynamics of the teacher community probably do impact knowledge sharing among teachers about effective methods for teaching.

But again, FLG doesn't see how this has to do with social justice or even inequality. If the dynamics of the teacher community effect student achievement drastically, then shouldn't we foster supportive and effective teacher communities everywhere? Shouldn't teachers care about the progress of all students?

1 comment:

The Ancient said...

For more than thirty years English Departments have been infested with people who could never make it in any reputable philosophy department but who still feel free to write and behave as if they could.

Why shouldn't the same tenure-track opportunities be available to people who can't do math?

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