Math with Martin

Most teachers and students in the U.S. didn’t have math class today because of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. But when you get back to the classroom, the online math world has some suggestions of how to incorporate ideas civil rights and justice into a math or statistics class.

Jessica Hartnett, who writes a blog about not awful and boring ideas for teaching statistics, suggests looking at public opinion polling data from the 1960s addressing attitudes towards Civil Rights protesters. (She was inspired by a Washington Post article by Elahe Izadi.) Students might be interested in comparing those attitudes to current attitudes about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Stats Medic, a site that helps provide middle- and high-school math teachers with resources and ideas for statistics lessons, has a suggested Martin Luther King, Jr. Day lesson about poverty and educational outcomes.

Annie Perkins, a math educator in Minneapolis and author of the arbitrarily close blog, has been hosting a discussion of The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander as part of a #MTBoS (math Twitter blogosphere) book club. The book discusses the way the war on drugs continues the country’s shameful legacy of white supremacy and racial injustice. I read it not too long ago and can attest it is eye-opening and enraging. Perkins shared a discussion she had with some students about statistics from the book, and today she is writing an extensive Twitter thread about the book. The official discussion will take place on January 20 in person for Twin Cities residents and on Twitter for the rest of us.

Though it may be too late to incorporate any of these posts into your lesson plans for tomorrow, the good news is that any day is a good day to talk about Civil Rights history, Dr. King’s legacy, and current issues of racial justice.

King himself, in addition to well-known works such as the “I Have a Dream” speech and the Letter from a Birmingham Jail, wrote about his views on education for the Morehouse College newspaper the Maroon Tiger in 1947. His words are relevant to teachers in any subject: “The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.” As you ponder his writing about education or any other topic, make sure to think before co-opting his words, as math educator José Luis Vilson writes at Educolor.

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