Equity Eyes

I’m really enjoying my Twitter Math Camp morning session. The title is, “What is the relationship between the Standards for Mathematical Practice and equity?”, presented by Grace Chen, Brette Garner, and Sammie Marshall.

One scenario we looked at was a classroom situation drawn from this journal article. Students are analyzing data for where certain Netflix moves are popular, and are looking at a specific movie with Black characters and a Black director that was only popular in a few neighborhoods in Los Angeles. William and Jessica have hypothesized that it is “more popular in predominantly Black neighborhoods because of ‘support’.”

The class grows increasingly rowdy. Jessica and William [two of five Black students in a class of 30 largely Latino students] defend the movie and point out that it was also very popular in Atlanta (Marker D). Other students make coded comments about “low budget marketing,” Tyler Perry movies, and “whack-ass movies over there.” Ramon calls William racist; other students chime in and say “that’s racist” or “it’s not being racist.” Mr. Romero asks students to calm down, to little effect. Eventually, William sits back in his chair, faces the board, and says “Okay, next slide.” Mr. Romero takes this opportunity to move on to another example of big data. William and Jessica are silent for the rest of the class period.

The last line is what got me. I’ve taught classes where similar accusations of racism have been tossed around. I’ve mostly handled those moments poorly. But I don’t think I would have noticed that two students were silent for the rest of the class. I don’t think my attention would have zoomed in on that piece of information or allowed me to address it in a way that could at least reduce the damage done to my class culture and those students’ sense of safety in my room.

On the first day of TMC, Grace, Brette and Sammie asked us to consider creating a checklist of “equity eyes”. These are ideas that we want to be thinking about, relative to equity, that are not yet automatic for us. Then, they asked us to take those equity eyes to our experiences at TMC, and be ready to share how this impacted us.

My goal for equity eyes was to look at ideas through the lens of whether previously low-performing students were learning as much as or more than previously high-performing students. I then promptly forgot about that goal and went about my learning for the rest of the day. I was reminded of equity eyes again at the start of our second session on day two.

Reflecting on that experience, it was an important reminder of how hard it is to change. It was also an important reminder of how necessary it is to do the work and get a little better every day. Jay Smooth has a great TED talk, which I found via Ben Blum-Smith. Jay shares the “dental hygiene model” of talking about race. Working against racism isn’t something you turn on and off. Instead, it’s like brushing your teeth. It’s something you need to do regularly. No one is perfect, everyone should be working on it, and no matter how great your dental hygiene is if you don’t brush your teeth for too long they’re going to turn yellow and fall out. In the same way, if we hide from hard questions we will lose that perspective and the ability to grapple successfully with hard challenges as they come.

As Grace said in our session:

The more we think about it, the more automatic it gets and the less we have to think about it.

One thing I find incredibly important is balancing an explicit focus on equity in particular spaces to build capacity with embedding equity in everything I do. It’s hard to look at everday decisions, teacher moves, and conversations through a lens of equity. That lens isn’t built overnight; it’s built painstakingly and slowly and deliberately. It’s built by taking time to dive deep into equity work, and then stepping back and figuring out how it can apply to everyday classroom teaching.

Sadie shared with me a beautiful Hawaiian word, `ukana. It means the stuff that we carry with us. I see an equity lens as something I want to add to the stuff I carry with me. It’s not easy, but it’s something that becomes more and more natural as I do it more regularly.

Today I improved my equity eyes a little bit. I engaged with some hard questions with some thoughtful people. I watched myself fail. I’m still reflecting on it and organizing my thoughts here. I have a long way to go. Looking forward to continuing the journey.

3 thoughts on “Equity Eyes

  1. Michael Pershan

    Thanks for the fantastic recap post. This sort of post is a fantastic example of what I’m looking for coming out of a conference. (It helps me understand some of what made the sessions great without making me feel like a shlump for not having been there.)

    One thing that I’m wondering about, having read this, is how “equity eyes” relates to your reading on knowledge/skills and cognitive psychology. What sort of learning does coming to automatically adopt equity eyes entail?

    Most people who study equity would probably adopt a social perspective on this kind of learning, I think. My sense is that the value of cases, role-play and simulations of actual classroom situations makes sense within a social, “learning as coming to participate in a community in a particular way” vision of learning.

    But from the perspective that you usually adopt on your blog — the cognitive one — what knowledge or micro-skills do we think are part of the learning that helps us easily and fluently adopt equity eyes?

    Sorry if this question makes zero sense, as I am writing it while struggling to nap.

  2. dkane47 Post author

    I am definitely thinking about it more from a practice perspective — I need to think about this regularly, over time, in lots of different contexts. I think where the social part comes in is that this is different from learning how to add fractions where you mostly learn first and practice later. Practices comes up pretty short as a descriptor for what’s going on here because putting equity into practice means learning from new situations and constantly adding to my equity toolbox.

  3. Pingback: Talking About Students | Five Twelve Thirteen

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