The following is adapted from the Opening Address given at the EF+Math All Hands Event,
Photo by Leighann Blackwood via Unsplash
In her book Beloved, Toni Morrison wrote:
Definitions belong to the definers,
not to the defined.
For me, that resonates as someone whose position as a Black woman and as a classroom educator often causes me to be defined by others. Therefore, I situate myself through my own acknowledgements.
To acknowledge is to accept, to admit to be true, to admit something exists. Acknowledgements set the context.
I acknowledge that the land I am on today called Georgia is the unceded land that once belonged to the Cherokee Peoples, land that they were forced to leave behind. I further acknowledge that my ancestors were stolen from their homeplaces to work this unceded land. I ask a blessing from the Cherokee Nation and from my enslaved and free ancestors whose countries of origin and native languages are unknown to me. May our time today be fruitful.
Personally, I acknowledge that although I am a healthy and employed educator, I am dealing with chronic trauma. I have been teaching remotely for the past ten weeks, enveloped in the inevitability of returning face to face, in a state without mandated social distancing and wearing of masks. Educator colleagues around the country are expected to plug the now obvious holes in systems to return to a “normal” that never was.
As a Black woman, I am very aware of anti-Blackness that surrounds me. My adult children live and/or work in cities of recent highly publicized murders and arrests of innocent people that look like them. Again, to begin with acknowledgements shows that context matters. It is important to acknowledge the lens through which we act and feel. That allows us effectively exchange messages.
Greetings, Everyone. Welcome. My name is Marian Dingle and it is my privilege to open this event. You’ve heard the repetition of the word acknowledge, used in several disciplines. In mathematics, we often hear of the practice called notice and wonder. The noticing is the acknowledgement. In the standards of mathematical practice, the very first practice begins:
“make sense of the problem”
The engineering design process begins with defining the problem. There is a problem that is acknowledged. Nothing begins without it. Even the scientific method begins with the formation of a research question, which, put another way, is a problem to be solved. As the saying goes, you can not solve a problem without first acknowledging there is one.
For many here, this is not your first equity workshop. We have been here before. Recent events have caused us to become fluent in the language of diversity, whether we were ready or not. Some questions to consider:
What do we acknowledge?
Are we able to say the words racism and white supremacy in mixed company?
Are we speaking up in real life and not just in these designated spaces?
Are we aware of the systems in which we operate? None of us are immune.
When do we acknowledge it?
Do we wait for something to happen before we march or are we proactive?
Do we wait until someone else does or when it is convenient?
Where do we acknowledge it?
At Thanksgiving Dinner?
Who do we acknowledge?
Do we stick to people we know or are we open to those who challenge us?
Why do we acknowledge them?
Do we have to have personal experience or proximity to a marginalized person?
Because there aren’t enough of us around for that.
How do we acknowledge?
Are we reluctant to put ourselves out there?
The time is past due for action and those actions won’t occur without this first step of acknowledgement.
What is the problem of my lifetime? That keeps me up at night? It’s that even becoming an educator with my eyes wide open, I was not able to prevent racial trauma of my own children in their K-12 experiences. That try as I might, in all the contexts in which I have worked, students who look like me continue to be at the bottom of every list. And unless you believe that these children are naturally inferior, it should keep us all up at night.
I do not wish suffering upon anyone. But. If you are not writhing in pain right now, please acknowledge the privilege you have in not doing so.
This work is life work. It is not to be contained in the EF+Math box. It is not a skill to achieve and you will resume your life as before. It will change you, I think, for the better. This work will take your lifetime. You should acknowledge that.