“Not All White People”

Christopher Danielson’s post, “Not All White People” has had me thinking the past few days.

I write about math, and the teaching of math. I am most interested in great math tasks, the facilitation of those tasks, sequencing and scaffolding of meaningful mathematics, and similar challenges that math teachers have. But while these are daily struggles every math teacher thinks about, they are far from all that math teachers need to solve. There’s classroom management, building relationships with students and families, formatting classwork, classroom routines. And race.

Many of my students are Black and Latino. Their parents lived through the Boston busing crisis, and if they didn’t they moved here from the Dominican Republic in the years since then. My students and their families are living the ongoing and residual effects of de facto segregation and racist housing policies. Some see violence in their neighborhoods. Some have struggled with homelessness.

But my students are not stereotypes. Some have been dealt a challenging hand,  but that’s true of any public school in the United States, and many haven’t. They are resilient, bright, curious, talented, and full of energy.

It’s easy for me to put aside racial issues — to say “I’m not racist”, and pretend it doesn’t exist. But the reality is that it does, and while racism may not be part of my character, the subtle, insidious influences of a racist society feed into my actions, and my actions are what affect my students. If I can acknowledge that my actions may be racist — that acknowledging race and making it transparent is not a bag thing — then I can be closer and more genuine with my students, and be the teacher they need, no matter who they are, no matter where they come from.

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