Teaching math or black culture?

Disturbing Schools
by Robert Koehler
Huffington Post, 2015-10-29

So South Carolina has a special crime category called "disturbing schools," which seems to be creating just that: disturbing schools. Very disturbing schools.

Not that I need to single out South Carolina. In my brief stint teaching writing as an outside consultant in several Chicago high schools, some 20 years ago, I was smacked broadside with the observation that the city's educational system exhibited the behavior of an occupying army, at least in its low-income neighborhoods. Education was something imposed from above and force-fed to the students like bad-tasting medicine.
It didn't honor the students' own culture.

If you, or society, wants to honor, teach, or celebrate black culture,
let there be established a course titled "Black Culture" or some equivalent.
But if the course is titled "Algebra 1",
the content of that course is established, yes, ABOVE.
Not by the students, not by negotiations,
but by committees that decide what "Algebra 1" should mean.
It is essential to have such standards.
How can you teach "Algebra 2"
if you do not have understanding of what was taught in Algebra 1?
Every math course and math book has prerequisites.
If there is not agreement on what is meant by those those prerequisites
confusion will result.
It cuts both ways:
Teachers will not know what to expect of their students who passed something called "Algebra 1",
while students who, say, aced some loosey-goosey version of Algebra 1
will later wonder why they are having so much understanding courses that have Algebra 1 as prerequisite.

And that's just confusion in the educational system.
What about employers?
Many are now looking for employees who have at least high school level math skills.
They need to know what an "A" in Algebra 1 signifies.

Math is different from the humanities and social sciences.
Whether a student reads Faulkner or some black writer for English class
really doesn't matter that much, I would think, to a potential employer.
But if a student gets an "A" in Algebra 1,
he or she should know certain well-defined concepts and algorithms,
such as, to give two examples,
how to solve two linear equations in two unknowns
and the quadratic formula.
Likewise, in Plane Geometry, the Pythagorean theorem, for a starter.

Do blacks need a different culture for understanding these?
Are linear equations and right triangles "racist" concepts?
Maybe they are to some, but if so that only indicates how different such people are.]

What the kids needed was a generosity of understanding that the education system had no interest in giving them, preferring to help them along on their journey to adulthood with zero tolerance and metal detectors.

What has happened to our national intelligence, not to mention our national values? In the era of cellphone accountability, our lack thereof has a new poster boy: Officer Slam. Throw the insolent kid across the floor, break her arm if necessary, slap her in cuffs.

This is how we teach respect. This is how we teach math.

"I was screaming 'What the f, what the f, is this really happening?'" These are the words of Niya Kenny, the brave young woman who stood up to Officer Ben Fields as he manhandled her classmate this past Monday at Spring Valley High School, in Columbia, S.C. "I was praying out loud for the girl. I just couldn't believe this was happening."

The girl's infraction: staying glued to her cellphone and refusing to surrender it to the teacher.

[What was the issue here?
The principle issue was not insolence or disrespect,
but the fact that cellphone usage was a distraction to the whole class.
One student can distract the whole class.
Maybe some will think that's "cute",
but it interferes with the learning process.

It seems rotten to me to on the one hand,
condemn schools for not closing the racial achievement gap ("failing schools"),
but on the other hand,
refuse to hold black students to the same standards of discipline and attention
that white students are held to.

I can say this from my own experience in whites-only schools in the 1950s:
Students were expected to pay attention to the teacher, and did so.
There was no "acting up" or "acting out" in school.
Students who couldn't meet that standard
were separated out and sent to "reform schools".
In fact, merely the threat of that was a great deterrence to bad behavior:
If a kid was acting up, he would be told:
"If you don't cut that out, you'll be sent to reform school."
In most cases, that threat was sufficient for the kid to decide that,
whatever he was doing, it really wasn't worth it
if it would result in him being sent to reform school.]

Yeah, I know, that's insolent. But it's not a justification for "whatever it takes, just get the kid out of here." In an educational system where compassionate sanity holds sway, schools have counselors. In some schools (including a growing number in Chicago), innovative programs like restorative justice change the whole teenager-adult dynamic. They hold peace circles. All parties in a misunderstanding have a chance to talk -- and listen -- to one another as equals. Misunderstandings get resolved, not prosecuted.