The Calculus Of Change: Math As A Gateway To Success, Not Gatekeeper

Feb 29, 2024 2:20:23 PM


After wrapping up 2024's Black History Month, I’ll present to a group of kindergarten students from New Jersey. As I consider what I want to get across to these young African American babies, my objective is to encourage them to develop a love for mathematics.

How can we do that for all students?

Mathematics often serves as a gatekeeper and a gateway in schools. It holds the power to unlock opportunities for students, providing a foundation for careers in science, technology, engineering, AI, and mathematics (STEAM).

With Black students, math is an unfair gatekeeper. Disparities in math education pose a significant challenge, creating a chasm between those with access to high-quality learning experiences and those without access.

Black Math Genius seeks to shed light on the underlying causes of these disparities, highlight the contributions of Black mathematicians, and propose strategies rooted in Culturally Relevant Pedagogy (CRP) to bridge the educational divide. (I will not waste time clearing up any misconceptions you have about critical race theory (CRT) in this article.)

The disparities in math education are multifaceted, stemming from historical, socio-economic, and institutional biases. Students from marginalized communities, particularly Black students, often attend schools with fewer resources, including less access to experienced and qualified math teachers, advanced coursework, and engaging math materials.

The effects of these inequities combine with lower expectations and systemic biases that fail to recognize the potential of all students, particularly those of color, forming a cycle of educational repression. This cycle is why so many students in these communities “advance” in school despite not understanding their grade-level standards.

Moreover, a severe lack of representation of Black mathematicians in curricula and educational resources contributes to a narrative that marginalizes Black individuals' contributions to mathematics. This omission distorts the history of mathematics and deprives Black students of role models.

CRP offers a powerful framework to address these disparities. Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, a renowned African American pedagogical theorist and teacher educator known for her significant educational contributions, developed CRP in the 90s, long before CRT. It emphasizes why it’s crucial to incorporate students' cultural backgrounds into the educational process.

In math education, this means designing curricula that reflect the rich contributions of all cultures, particularly the historically marginalized. It is the mission of Black Math Genius to design such curricula.

Implementing CRP in math education requires a shift towards a more inclusive, equitable, and just approach — an approach that is under attack by governors and local officials across the country. It involves recognizing the cultural assets students bring to their learning, integrating culturally relevant examples and problems, and promoting critical thinking and social justice through mathematics.

Strategies to Bridge the Divide

  • Highlight the Contributions of Black Mathematicians: Incorporating the achievements of Black mathematicians into the curriculum can inspire students and provide them with role models. Celebrating figures like Dr. Abdullalim Shabazz, Benjamin Banneker, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Gladys West enriches students' understanding of mathematics and challenges narratives of exclusion.
  • Professional Development for Teachers: Equipping teachers with the tools and knowledge to implement culturally relevant pedagogy is crucial. That process includes training to recognize and challenge their biases, integrate cultural references in math lessons, and employ teaching methods that foster a positive and inclusive classroom environment. Teachers must have a deep conceptual understanding of their content to do this successfully. The development of their knowledge must be a priority for district leaders.
  • Engage With the Community: Collaboration with parents, community leaders, and organizations can enhance the relevance and impact of math education. Community-based projects and real-world problem-solving that reflect the students' experiences and cultural backgrounds can make math more engaging and meaningful.
  • Utilizing Technology and Innovative Resources: Tech tools offer unprecedented opportunities to access resources supporting culturally relevant math education. From online platforms showcasing the work of Black mathematicians to AI, coding, and apps that provide interactive and personalized learning experiences, technology can play a pivotal role in democratizing math education.

Addressing the disparities in math education is not simply a matter of equity; it is a matter of justice.

By recognizing and valuing the contributions of Black mathematicians, implementing culturally relevant pedagogy, and adopting innovative strategies, we can bridge the educational divide. Further, we can bridge the wealth divide; students majoring in STEAM fields make 130% more yearly than non-STEAM majors.

These efforts can ensure mathematics serves as a gateway to opportunities for all students. The path toward equitable math education requires commitment, creativity, and collaboration. Black Math Genius is thrilled to collaborate with EdPost on this mission. Let us embrace this challenge with the understanding that the future of our students and the field of mathematics depends on our ability to foster an inclusive and empowering learning environment. 

Dr. Assata Moore

Assata Moore is educator and author who advocates for educating young Black children, using math as the driving force. She believes in the supreme intelligence of Black children because she has seen it time and time again. As a teacher and principal, she traveled the world teaching other teachers how to teach Mathematics, physics, and engineering in a fun and engaging way; effective leadership; and systems and strategies for running a successful school. She has a Mathematics degree from Michigan State University where she also served as the program coordinator. In 2009, she was voted one of the top Mathematics teachers in the state of Illinois and, under the Obama Administration, Assata received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. In 2015, under the direction of Michelle Obama, she revisited the White House for a college conference initiative. Her workshops and speaking engagements are what she calls, “EduAction”. You will be educated and you will put that learning into action.

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