Beginning on September 3, Tyrone Martinez-Black, Kelly Wickham Hurst, and I will be moderating a Twitter chat on the book, Ghosts in the Schoolyard written by Eve Ewing. The story of its conception follows, as well as other thoughts on my mind. It all starts with a math conference.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) is having their annual meeting in Chicago in 2020. In fact, this gathering is special, commemorating its centennial. As I attended my first annual meeting in 2019, I kept thinking about the next year's conference and its connections to history. I wondered about the organization's stories and anecdotes of the past. Specifically, I wondered if I would even be welcomed as a member a hundred years ago. I could not imagine I would.
Although I had this discussion with other members back in April, these wonderings still populate my thoughts. The concepts of equity, social justice and cultural responsiveness have made it to the fore of our American math world, yet the definitions are far from universal. Also not widely understood is how best to implement culturally responsive pedagogy or teach mathematics with social justice in mind. Yet, these pedagogical moves are not new. How did we get here? Or, how is it that we are still here?
Land acknowledgments now occur with more frequency in math spaces than they once did. These are acknowledgments that the lands we inhabit in these gatherings are stolen from indigenous peoples. Sometimes, it is a mere mention of this fact, other times, it is a more elaborate tribute, involving naming the nations in question and/or asking for their blessing. And yet, what seems to occur without much thought is the lack of deliberate place-based consideration that goes beyond a list of tourist attractions.
The more history I learn of my own people, and others from groups still marginalized, I am curious about stories of resistance. Did Black mathematicians have to fight to gain membership? How did they do this? What methods were effective? How hard has it been for marginalized mathematicians to make their way? How hard is it still? What I was yearning for is the place history, or as Tyrone has aptly named it, place value.
Chicago Place Value
With the NCTM centennial event being in Chicago, I couldn't help to be drawn to Ewing's 1919, a book of poetry, written about Red Summer. While researching her book, she stumbled upon a 1922 report that followed the hundreds of deaths during white supremacist attacks in several cities, including Chicago. Red Summer. A hundred years prior. A haunting coincidence. Again I wondered about how my identity as a mathematician would have been realized in that environment.
Eventually, I found myself tweeting about 1919 and wanting to read her other book to learn all I could about Chicago. If we were to inhabit this place, it made sense to me that we honor it by being as knowledgeable as possible about its history, especially its recent history, as it related to education. Tyrone, a Chicagoan tweeted back and offered to read along with me. Kelly, another Chicagoan, chimed in as well, and we found ourselves talking and planning. In no time, we had decided to create a Twitter chat so that all of us, not just those in math education, could benefit from the history that surely we hadn't before known.
To truly acknowledge a place, we must value its history, beauty, and struggles. What is it that still hides? Where are the ghosts? I am honored to learn from Tyrone and Kelly, who are making Chicago history. We live in a time when it is difficult to discuss racism openly, let alone its effects. Yet, the history must be faced, and the hard work of change must be done together, in community. We invite you on the journey with us.
Reflecting is good for the soul. Doing so in public is terrifying and exhilarating.