Week Eleven–More Important Than Math

I want to honor my commitment to posting weekly, but this week I can’t simply report on what happened in my classes. This week was too much. This week was too hard.

I live in the great state of California, in the amazing city of San Francisco. We are by no means universal in our beliefs, political or otherwise, but there is a definite liberal leaning around these parts. Many people in my life are reeling right now from the outcome of the election. I am as well.

Our students were hurting this week. They were confused, they were angry, they were disappointed, some of them were scared. We teach our students to be honest, to be kind, to conduct themselves with integrity in all that they do. They make plenty of mistakes, but they also come to expect this of themselves and of one another. They certainly expected the same from the leaders of our country.

On Wednesdays our school schedule begins with advisory. We meet in small groups that stay together across all four years a student is at our school. This year I have a new (and awesome) group of freshmen. There was a plan–an agenda–for the week, but that all went out the window Tuesday night as the election results rolled in. When I walked into my advisory room on the 9th, one of my advisees was in tears. She’d stayed up late talking and texting with her friends, one of whom is terrified that his parents will be deported.

I can’t just tell these kids that everything will be okay.

I wish that I could. I wish that I believed that this was true. But I just don’t know if it is.

Instead, I asked everyone to check in with how they were feeling. I went first. I shared how I was scared and sad and frustrated and angry and confused. My voice shook and my eyes welled up with tears, but still I spoke. I told my students that I would be looking for ways to stand up and make a difference. To do good in the world in whatever way I could.

Each student shared their thoughts, which ranged from deep sadness to outright confusion and disbelief. Afterwards, I asked everyone to go around and share something they were grateful for. Despite the strong emotions that we had shared with one another, we ended our time together with gratitude. For family and friends; for a future where this group of young people will have more of a voice; for the outcomes in this election that we do celebrate; and for chocolate chip cookies, which were very much needed at that moment in time.


The Student Life Council recently put up a blackboard in our dining hall for students and staff to write in response to a variety of prompts. Wednesday’s prompt was “What are you scared of?”

I wrote: Apathy.

5 thoughts on “Week Eleven–More Important Than Math

  1. Pingback: This Week: #Election2016 / Global Math Department

  2. Thank you for sharing this important message. You mention that this week you could not share what happened in class, but you truly did. You stated that the week was about more than math. On this note, I would like to ask if fighting for social justice and learning mathematics must be two different things? I wonder if we can somehow find a way as math educators to incorporate this vital learning as a part of our daily work. Perhaps if students are learning about linear equations, we can post statistics about the benefits that immigrants grant our country, or the hurt that is caused when they leave. Maybe students can look for their own data online that represents a cause they believe in and then find ways to explain it mathematically and present it to the class so everyone can learn why this cause is of significance. Maybe students can look at the way votes are calculated and assigned value and develop various mathematical representations around how leaders in our country are chosen? I would love to hear if you have ever done something like this that we could all use in our classrooms. Can we find a way to make learning math about learning the math that surrounds us daily and the numbers that affect our lives?

    • Hi Eve,

      Thanks for the comment. I certainly don’t believe that teaching math and social justice must be two different things; I also believe that combining them in meaningful ways can be exceptionally challenging–and kudos to the educators out there that do it consistently and do it well. I think that one of the difficulties in teaching topics pertaining to inequity is that it takes a lot of skill to keep students thinking positively and keeping them motivated and inspired by the mathematical topics of the course. Ideally I’d want them to see how math can be used as a tool to understand and address issues of social justice. I hope to do this more and more as the years progress, but I recognize that I’m nowhere near there yet.

      You asked specifically about students looking at how votes are calculated and I can report back on that with good news! I am currently designing a 3-week course on that topic called “Mathematics of Democracy” that I’ll be co-teaching with a Humanities teacher next year. Students will be taking the course all day for ~14 days total. We’re really excited about how it’s shaping up. I imagine that there will be a lot of interesting stuff to dig into and reflect upon when that course runs–which won’t be until June of 2019 (most likely, it’s possible it will be in January).

  3. This was a powerful post, and I’m glad that I stumbled upon it. I am pre-service teacher in Michigan, and have learned so many things from my teaching program, but for all the information that I’m forced to digest, I’m not sure that much of it is relevant when events and circumstances so starkly real and painful invade the bubble that we often envision (and hope?) school to be. Besides my passion for math, the opportunity to be involved in kids’ lives was one of the reasons I decided to be a teacher. Despite this, I have some doubt in my ability to handle situations like this with much grace going into my first year of teaching next year. And yet I know that all the practice and theory in the world often falls away when kids bring burdens so heavy and wounds so raw into the classroom, when my job will switch from being a math teacher to being a caring human being. So I don’t know how that will go, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to read about how you handled such a delicate and tough situation. Thank you for sharing this.

    • Thank you for your kind comment, Nick.

      As I’m sure you know, your job never switches “to being a caring human being” since that is always the first thing you should be in the classroom. In this post, I shared more about what I did with my advisory, not in my classes–which is a bit different. I recall another class–right after one of the presidential debates (I might have blogged about that one too)–where I told my students that we were going to use math as a reminder that logic and reasoning are important…and then I made some snarky comment about how those two things weren’t fully present at the debate the previous night.

      Sometimes doing math can be the refuge and the consistency in a crazy, chaotic world.

      Sometimes you’ll have to put the lesson plan on hold and teach about something different (though it might also be related to math) because the events of the day demand it.

      You’ll figure it out. Maybe not next year; but you will figure it out.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s