cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Sunday, February 10, 2019

We need to reimagine our whole-community conference from the ground up

We are trying to squash a new paradigm (a teacher-driven, free of charge, math ed professional development conference that locates equity at its center and foundation) into a too-small and outdated structure (TMC). We need to understand more about how the existing structure works so we can create a better plan.

We are still not anywhere near the point of identifying or understanding the unconscious, unspoken, equity-blind, harm-causing assumptions in TMC's structures. We're just not. This needs to be a whole-community effort. We're trying to set new goals but we're still walking around in the same old consensus trance.

There is no way that a small group of people could tackle this problem successfully. It's not realistic. It will take everybody in our community to surface and and interrogate the hidden assumptions in our structures. The problem with blind spots is that they are blind spots. If we don't work together on surfacing and transforming our assumptions, we will continue to just tinker around at the margins and that's not going to be satisfactory to anybody. It is also not going to unleash the liberatory potential in a a whole-community effort.

Here is an example of what I mean.

One of the toxic assumptions I stumbled on in my own classroom lately and am ruthlessly rooting out is the notion of individual attainment — the idea that each person has their OWN learning/mastery that is unconnected to the learning of anyone else in the room. This gives rise to a toxic kind of individual competition that is antithetical to sane and healthy learning for all.

This is the assumption that, once "I" understand the concept and "finish" an "assignment," then I am "done" and am on the hook for nothing more, leaving me free to play video games or do some other work.

But what if we were to start rejecting the underlying assumption(s) of individual attainment?

What if the goal were for the WHOLE CLASS to achieve fluency in a particular concept or skill as best we can, rather than for each individual to do it as best they can?

How would each of us teach, learn, listen, collaborate, help others? How would that change what I/you/we want? What would I/you/we need? What I/you/we would give?

What I realized in this thought experiment is that when grades are given for individual attainment, that is based on a socially Darwinian set of assumptions in which everyone arrives in my classroom with the same levels of everything. Every kid for themselves.

Once I saw this assumption, I couldn't un-see it, and I also couldn't help but challenge it. I am responsibility for every student in my room; therefore my goal needs be to get everybody over the finish line, right?

That forced me to look at the base-level operating assumption about individual attainment as the only measure. What if I were to change our goal to being one of, nobody wins unless everybody wins?

As I saw in the episode I wrote up on my blog, the kids took to this like ducks to water and our class averages were in the 90s rather than in the low 80s to high 70s.

How would we — each and collectively — think differently about our whole-community conference if equity were to be the absolute bedrock foundation upon which we were committed to build?

Wouldn't we have to start by analyzing together what the unconscious assumptions in our existing structures are?


  1. I really enjoyed reading this post.

    Something I think about a lot is how all teaching is political and all good teaching (as far as I can tell) is socialist. Just like all good healthcare, all good transportation, etc is socialist.

    What I mean is that whenever you ask the question “how can we do this better?” the answer inevitably leads you down a rabbit hole of “help each other” and “share,” two moral principles that seem at odds with American culture these days. Thank you for being part of the solution.

  2. Would you please send me information regarding the conference? I've been unsuccessful in locating information and we have teachers in the East Bay who are very interested in attending.
    Thank you!!

    1. I'm not sure my contact info is visible....

      Thank you!