The Holiday for Martin Luther King

Each year in January and many more times throughout the year I ponder how children and teachers think about MLK. I wonder about the ways and perspectives they think about him, his legacy, and his life. 

In this year 2020, now more than ever, I hope it conjures thoughts about freedom. I hope MLK’s life connects students and teachers to thinking about freedom. Examining what freedom means to them as people and citizens of America.

Freedom is at the center of the idea of democracy. Demo – people and Cracy – governance – This country is based on the idea of a nation state run by the people – for the people. The freedom to speak your mind and to vote are central to the American ideal.

This year, I hope that teachers and students remember, celebrate, and learn about our American freedoms in honor of MLK. I also hope they learn that he was equally passionate about all people being free from poverty and war.

There are few among us willing to give their lives for the furthering of nation and species. MLK and many who were part of a long tradition connecting the American shame of slavery to present day civil rights challenges lived and gave their lives in this way. 

I was seven year old when he was killed. The desegregation of schools, race riots, and Lennon’s “Power to the People” were all part of my childhood. More than anything, his putting Love at the center of everything was what my mother taught me as primary. This message precludes everything. When humans lead with Love they have little opportunity to consider race or other characteristics that separate us as a species.

In this year 2020, now more than ever, I have hope for Love and Freedom. I know that schools and teachers play a key role for many children in helping them understand their importance and significance in being an American and human being.

Here’s to Martin Luther King Jr., a human each child on the planet should learn about and learn from.  

Math Power… What’s it all about…

Math power rules our money and in many ways money rules the human world and has deep impact on the physical world as well.

Math power rules computer mediated systems such as social media etc.. that have deep impact on our communications, social and emotional identity and well-being.

Math power rules our healthcare systems which has profound impact on our well being and longevity.

Math power rules our politics in many ways which have deep impact on how we impact or are impacted by political decision making and planning.

Math power rules our lives’ simple logistics in many ways from cooking, transportation, purchasing, educational choices, and on an on.

This list could be much more extensive and well described but I think the point is made. Math interest, fluency, meaning making and application are thoroughly woven into human existence in the modern world. 

If we accept, as many do, that a great majority of people… like 70%.. are just not good at math.. Meaning – they do not have the right born in “math stuff ,” than this excludes all those people from basic access to these power domains and as such, to power over their own lives in a free society.

In our schools, we have a responsibility for this outcome during our citizens’ youth. From age 5 to 18 say…. those 13 years of K-12 schooling are what we must own. If we send the majority of children out into the world feeling “math powerless” and maybe being “math powerless” what does that say about what we have been doing those 13 years. 

Aside reading and writing literacy issues of the last 100 years, math literacy has been hanging in the shadows of our focus. Lip service paid for sure.. but little done that perception tells us is as at least equivalent or approximate to what has been invested in over these years in terms of our citizenry’s language literacy. For sure, the assertions in this paragraph can and should be challenged but you get my point… I hope. Math power needs some attention…

Along these lines, the Rio School District and other organizations have been toying with Improvement Science as a method for solving or at least acting on BIG problems like the math power problem. One initial activity of the Improvement Science process is to “fish-head” the problem by getting stakeholders to generate causal factors that connect to the initial problem statement. Of course crafting the initial problem statement is a giant challenge to begin with because it seems so simple but the entire network of improvers needs to be clear on it…. So I say the problem with math power in our American society is too few have it…. That is, the problem can be clarified to the small percentage of Americans who have the math interest, fluency, and meaning making practices sufficient to navigate the many societal power structures that are dependent on math. Now that might not be so clear but this would indicate that no one writer should be crafting the problem in isolation in this networked methodology. Still, it’s my two cents.

So if we temporarily accept that the BIG problem to improve is that too few people have MATH POWER, then here is a list of causal drivers and sub-drivers, and sub-sub drivers that contribute to the overall problem. In Improvement Science, once we have networked and exhausted this problem analytic visual then we collaborate to choose one or two drivers to improve, the ones we think collectively will contribute the most to the overall problem solution with the least amount of effort. Ergo, the elegant action solutions. Here is a short list of causal drivers that first come to mind today;

  1. Math is taught out of context in schools.
  2. Math learning is mainly focused on procedures and computation.
  3. Math teachers who have equal parts high level math pedagogy, math interest, and math knowledge are in scarcity.
  4. Math learning is often isolated from other learning.
  5. Math learning environments often fail to provide necessary time for deep exploration and deep learning.
  6. Math learning is often overly competitive.
  7. The myth that math ability is more nature than nurture is still rampant.
  8. Math use in societal contexts is often hidden intentionally.
  9. Math is rarely taught as it relates to its beauty, fun, or profundity. 
  10. Math is rarely taught as a family activity.
  11. Math learning is most often taught through abstract/symbolic activities with a growing demand for visuals but rarely taught as hands on/ minds on.
  12. Little time is afforded for math play.

And the list might go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and it should and then it should be arranged into a complex fish with drivers and sub drivers and connections etc….

And thus, the soap box version of keyboard linked thinking out loud yearns yet again towards a social justice and democracy bent… Change the world? Change the distribution of Math power – Math Interest, Fluency, Meaning Making…. And have some fun while doing it…. The fun comes in when we learn to struggle for things within the delayed gratification and sometimes joy not only of accomplishing or learning something but even more powerfully – for the joy of the struggle itself…. We commonly glorify this pursuit in the arenas of sport… that are now so fully “Billy balled” with maths…. that there is little difference in the Math/Sport domains in many ways……  still there is a giant chasm of interest that separates the two…. And yes fantasy football and sports gambling may have dragged some folks temporarily into a math powered world only to be left out again as they attempt to make meaning from their medical test results, mortgage papers, or daily weather report.

So here is to doing some social justice work…. Changing the distribution of math power. Inverting it. 30/70 to 70/30 aiming towards 100/0 of course…. Now where shall we begin?