Sunday, May 29, 2016

All the Way

Missed another #MTBoS30 post yesterday, but it was in the service of a day chock full from 6 am to midnight, so no regrets. Time with one of the bravest people I've ever met, my son doing well on his first dan (permanent blackbelt) tae kwon do test, church, dinner with family...

With a free Sunday morning, we (as a family, even) finally got to watch the Lyndon Johnson biographical movie All the Way.

It's amazing.

I'm 51 (with considerable less grace and style than this 51 year old) and this was my birth year. I don't remember it, then, but this was the backdrop of my first memories. Kennedy and King being shot, Nixon, Vietnam and Watergate was what I knew about politics and government. It was amazing to watch this movie, with its decidedly modern viewpoint. It took decades for me to move beyond childish black and white images of these people and my black and white judgment of their actions. The filmmakers are good at filming what was actually said then in a way that makes connections to today possible.

Looking back, it's so easy to identify the right side of history. To see bigotry and name it when we are free of it (we think!). My spouse is excellent at challenging us (okay, me) to see what is inequitable now.

One of the things I enjoyed most was seeing Robert Moses portrayed as a young man, working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. That fits seemlessly into his work as a math educator. The Algebra Project, interviews (on a Selma anniversary, NPR), or his book Radical Equation. He is one of my dearest heroes.

In All the Way, Dr. Moses is portrayed as too radical to effect change. To be so convicted to principle that he can not compromise for some gains. Dr. Moses makes direct connection between the idea of civil rights and the empowerment of mathematics education. It's so complicated, it could be easy to walk away, and understandable when people do. Education cannot solve poverty, but it's such a necessary part of any solution.

Are we not able to affect change because we need an LBJ? Someone with the conviction that can see a path to equitable education and is enough of an asshole to get it done? I think we are accountable both for holding and proclaiming the principles and doing the problem solving to get to a better place. But I am on one side of it, and often in danger of fighting the LBJs who are probably on our side.

I am humbled by how generally useless academics are in society.

One of the reasons that the Math-Twitter-Blog-o-Sphere (almost as ridiculous sounding as "snick") is so encouraging to me. We are self-organizing and devoted to the education of kids independent of what the government or publishers or pundits say. Now I'd love to see the NCTM play the role of the NAACP in pursuing systemic change, too, but I'll take what I can get. And this band of teachers, working one or six classes of students at a time is getting a lot. God bless you all in your work.

We will overcome.

PS. In the Selma anniversary interview, Dr. Moses is asked what he'd like to hear President Obama say in his address. Re responds: "I'd like to hear him speak about education. We can do all we want about voting and everything else, but if we don't provide an education for every child in this country that's what they need for the 21st century then we will just be sending them to the criminal justice system. We do not have in this country an education system that is dedicated to educating every child, so I'd like to hear him speak out about that." Me, too.

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