Tag Archives: Race

Really NYT? Harmful Stereotypes About Women and Math?

Hidden Figures

Image from “Hidden Figures” – from empireonline.com

I’m not a big movie buff, but I’ve been fascinated by Hidden Figuresthe forthcoming film about the largely unknown African-American women mathematicians and engineers whose calculations were crucial to enabling the Apollo moon missions. Their contributions are particularly monumental since they came at a time when segregation and racism constrained educational and professional opportunities for so many black Americans. So I was excited to read this weeks’ New York Times profile of the movie.

That said, I couldn’t help being put off by how the article reported on the math aversion of the film’s leads. The opening sentence reads:

Taraji P. Henson hates math, and Octavia Spencer has a paralyzing fear of calculus, but that didn’t stop either actress from playing two of the most important mathematicians the world hasn’t ever known.

The article continues to reference Henson’s and Spencer’s discomfort with math as if it’s slightly endearing, without ever questioning the educational and life experiences that might have led these two highly accomplished women to hate math.

Why is it acceptable and cute for grown adults to say they’re not comfortable with math? Why do we treat discomfort with math as something to be taken for granted rather than the result of our education system’s long-running failure to teach math effectively, combined with low expectations for women, girls, and students from historically underserved racial/ethnic groups and low-income families? Continue reading

California Has a Chance to Fix Its Teacher Diversity Problem

Could tackling California’s teacher shortage also increase the state’s teacher diversity? It’s no secret there are vast race differences between California’s students and teachers. More than half of K-12 students in the state are Latino or Hispanic, but less than one in five teachers share their racial/ethnic background. This is troublesome because teacher diversity matters: Diverse teachers may provide more culturally relevant instruction and could have a greater impact on improving academic outcomes for students of color.

CA teacher diversity SY14-15

Source: DataQuest, California Department of Education, http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/. Continue reading

Progress Not Perfection: Overcoming Your Hesitation to Talk about Race and Equity at Work

The Shaman by Pedro Paricio via Halcyon Gallery

Is it a prerequisite that you feel fluent in the language of race, inclusion, and equity before tackling such issues in your organization?

This is a question I’ve been working through myself. Acting to resolve a sensitive issue we may be met with silence, confusion, denial, or resistance. If not communicated tactfully, we might unintentionally offend colleagues. In the worst case scenario, we might encounter marginalization, reprimand, or even termination. Scary stuff. So, initially, my intuition said that we should get good at talking about sensitive topics before launching into action to avoid complicating an already complex situation. Reaching a level of conversational proficiency where we feel confident to handle any situation before intervening in an equity issue seemed like a logical pursuit.

More recently, I’ve come to think that this is a recipe for delay, paralysis, and, ultimately, the perpetuation of the status quo. Waiting for everyone to reach proficiency won’t work because everyone’s starting from a different place. More importantly, as a sector and as leaders, we’re late to the game on this and it’s time to report for duty.

As an education leader, you have two roles: lead and provide space and support for others to grow. The same is true when making equity part of your daily dialogue. It’s important to acknowledge that people all have different levels of comfort and sophistication with discussions about race and equity. For instance, when we talk about race, there are often stark differences between people of color and whites. Continue reading

Charleston, Black Weariness, and White Allyship

I am tired. I am weary. Welcome 2 my world.

via www.writerightwords.com

Another tragic racially motivated hate crime has taken place, this time at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the wake of too many brutal shootings of unarmed black men captured on video and thus exposed to the world, the event in Charleston elicited a range of reactions: outrage, grief, solidarity, disgust, resolve. But a common sentiment of weariness has emerged in many of the articles and commentaries that I’ve read.

Singer Solange Knowles poignantly expressed her fatigue this way:

To some degree, the recent spate of highly publicized race-based tragedies has elicited weariness in anyone invested in social equity. Waking up to these headlines is emotionally draining. But there’s a stark difference between the exhaustion experienced by people of color and whites that deserves attention if we are to find motivation to move forward together in these moments.

Tawnya Denise Anderson, a Presbyterian minister and author of this fantastic post, puts it this way:

I wish I could help non-Black folks understand what it’s like to be inundated with stories and experiences like this. It scars the psyche. You go from anger and indignation to depression and dejection and back and forth and back again until you’re inevitably numb. When news of Kalief Browder’s suicide broke, many of my White friends expressed their anger about it and the system that facilitated it. I told them they could be angry all they wanted. As for me, I’m exhausted.

This expression of collective weariness reminded me of a candid conversation with a colleague about our reactions to the Michael Brown shooting. She expressed her experience confronting and then battling racism this way, “I’m sick and tired. And then I get sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Continue reading

Do You Have Opposability and Cross-class Expertise?

In yesterday’s New York Times op-ed, “Skills in Flux,” David Brooks shares some examples of seven new skills that are valued in today’s highly-networked, multicultural, and data-rich world. He writes: “As the economy changes, the skills required to thrive in it change, too, and it takes a while before these new skills are defined and acknowledged.”

More to come on what this means for the education sector, but for now I want to dig into two skills that Brooks mentions that are particularly valuable for education leaders.

The first is opposability – the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one’s mind while still retaining the ability to function (a la F. Scott Fitzgerald).

The education sector is wrought with polemic arguments that present policy solutions as mutually exclusive, but behind those arguments is intimidating complexity and startling nuance that exposes the vast gray area where most issues reside. For instance, high-quality, competency-based instruction is not incompatible with annual tests and accountability measures, yet I don’t often see education leaders and policymakers employing the mental opposability that could reconcile these ideas into powerful policy and practice.

The second is cross-class expertise – the ability to operate in an insular social niche while seeing it from the vantage point of an outsider.

Brooks’ idea of cross-class expertise as a professional skill is particularly germane to urban education where teachers, principals, and system leaders are disproportionately white, well-educated, and affluent compared to the constituencies that they serve. I interpret this skill as a kind of actionable self-awareness specific to race and class which is related to one of my recent posts on the necessity of education leaders being able to discuss issues of race, class, and inequity,

In a conversation with my colleague Saamra Mekuria-Grillo, at the Pahara Institute, we broke down  cross-class expertise into two kinds: native and learned. Native cross-class expertise is a skill acquired by mixed-race, bi-cultural, or mixed-class people or those who operate in highly diverse environments for extended lengths of time – much like how being  immersed in a digital culture results in digital natives. Learned cross-class expertise pertains to people who operate in a racially or culturally homogeneous environment but proactively gain exposure to new cultures, perspectives, and experiences to inform their work and personal development.

Should the education sector learn to value opposability we’d move closer to public debate that’s more civil, productive, and nuanced. And more cross-class experts could help reconcile the urgency to close achievement gaps with reforms that include the communities where they exist.