Jul 272016

Brian Lawler posted this today:

This statement hit me in the feels, as it is intended.*** Then my brain took over. I realized I should question first whether or not it is really a dichotomy. Does it have to be one or the other? Can a teacher, no, stop. Let me be clear. I am not calling out anyone. I am not directing this question at anyone but myself.

Starting over. Can I teach with one foot in both camps? Is there a continuous line between “teaching conformity” and “teaching to change the world?” What would that look like?


Put another way, if this is our scale of -10 to +10,  is it possible to be at a neutral 0?

I know teachers like to tell themselves that they are at the +10 all the time. I did for the first few years of teaching. I was doing great things, I was teaching math dog-gone-it!

But was I really? Was my practice and my vision aligned? I don’t think so. I think I told myself I was at +10, but was really down around -10. What changed? When did it change? When did I realize that the vision and the reality were not aligned? And back to the original question, is it a dichotomy, or is it a continuum?

No feels here. No emotional response. My heart says “go positive, all the way.” But this is a brain question. What would a zero look like in the classroom?

I would be punishing non-compliance sometimes? So on some days I expected compliance, but other days not? Or is it on some subjects compliance, and other subjects not? That just seems to me to be a recipe for disaster in the classroom. Learners have no idea what to expect every day when they walk in.

The idea of memory and memorization is interesting. Do I reinforce memorization of some topics, but not others? So you have to understand and be able to explain how to transform quadratics into all 3 forms (standard, intercept, and vertex form) but you have to memorize the translation rules and just spit the rules back to me with no conceptual understanding.


I think a lot of topics are presented as dichotomous when there are gradiations between the two sides. Politically this is very true. Very few people are actually Democrat or Republican, but in truth some version of purple in between. We stereotype the “other” into the two camps, and yet sit down and have conversations with friends and family (well usually we do.)

But is there a middle ground here?

I don’t think so.

I think we have to choose one or the other. As math educators we especially must chose. Mathematics is too often a gatekeeper that reinforces social stereotypes and serves as the barrier to higher education. Read the works of Danny Martin or other educators, or follow the #Educolor hashtag if you need evidence for this statement.

I don’t see any cogent arguments from the “recreating what is” side. The status quo is broken, and it is breaking a large segment of our population. I am part of the status quo, or I am part of the agency that transforms the status quo into something new.

So to answer my question, “Is it really a dichotomy?” I have to answer with a yes. It is one, or the other. I don’t understand how there can be a continuum on this issue.

I am fully open to discussing it. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I haven’t been reading the right articles. If there is evidence to the contrary, please let me know. In the mean time, as a teacher educator, a teacher of teachers, this quote will be front and center in my thoughts.

[As an aside, I am building the reading list and teaching the ed theory class in my program this semester. Yes, this will be an issue brought up in the theory of education for math and science teachers. It is too important not to discuss.]


*** Brian sent me the link he was paraphrasing from. The original article is: https://bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=21678

  One Response to “Teaching as political activity”

  1. I wonder if you can put student thinking and classroom behavior on independent axes. For example: you want to be a +10 on creating student agency in your classroom by encouraging thoughtful questioning and being approachable about nearly everything as the adult in the classroom. At the same time, you want a consistent environment that matches the reasonable expectations and rules of the entire school (potentially a -10 depending on the school). You can be open to discussing rules with students and offer a pathway that may lead to changing your rules or advocating for students who want to change a school rule (encouraging agency), but doing this while continuing to live within the rules (conformity). Over the past 5 years I have become both a more consistent school-rule and personal-rule enforcer while becoming better at encouraging students to question, wonder, and appropriately push back in the academic and rule-realms. I feel like this is the direction I want to keep moving in, but I’m curious to see where this discussion goes.

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