This week on the podcast we’re joined by Heinemann Fellow Marian Dingle, and Dr. Naomi Jessup. Marian’s work throughout her fellowship has been focused around her passion about mathematics, seeking to diversify mathematics curriculum through highlighting the work of mathematicians of color. Her guest, Dr. Jessup, is an assistant professor of mathematics education in the College of Education & Human Development’s Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education at Georgia State University.
In their conversation today, Marian and Dr. Jessup discuss mathematics as a humanizing force; a tool for finding solutions to social injustice. But too often, structural and systemic forces keep children from believing that they are good at math, setting them too early on trajectories that determine their level of success in mathematics. But a big difference can be made with the right support and encouragement early on and throughout a child's academic career.
Here now, is Marian and Dr. Jessup.
Below is a full transcript. This transcript is machine generated.
Marian: Dr. Jessup. It is so nice to finally get to have this podcast conversation. Thank you so much for agreeing to do it. Being in a global pandemic amidst the global process, this is some time to have a conversation about mathematics, but here we are. For me, my own wellbeing is minute-by-minute. I've had to allow myself flexibility with my emotions and my schedule. So first, can you tell us how you are doing? And then second, tell us about your relationship to mathematics. When did you first know that you loved math? How does your love for math manifest itself?
Dr. Jessup: Well first, thank you for the opportunity to talk about mathematics, given the global pandemic, and everything that is happening in our country. And also thank you for giving me the space to think about and reflect. I think my response to how I'm doing, and thinking about mathematics, are one and the same, in terms of complicated, and lots of emotions.
So today, I'm doing okay. Other days, not so much. I think I realized it can take an emotional toll, when you are constantly engaging with people or ideas that really are not humanizing. And, there's no window open for understanding compassion, even considering historical context of why we are in the midst of protests. So, I'll just say it's complicated. I look to my family, they bring strength, so that's exciting. And, even in the midst of COVID, we've had opportunities to engage one another, and really just enjoying time together. However, in our time together, we are also having lots of serious conversations about the impact of COVID, particularly in black communities. What's happening globally, related to black communities so things get heavy. But today I'm good. This moment, I'm good.
Marian: Yes. I'm so glad.
Dr. Jessup: This doesn't mean that I'll always be that way, but in this moment, I am good. So again, thank you for that question. So I want to also respond to the question, "When did I first know that I love math?" I'll just say as someone who has spent at least 15-plus years in education, not including formal schooling. I don't know if I really acknowledged or recognized my love for math until maybe in college, Because so much of my experiences in school, I felt like math, while I excelled, I didn't belong in those spaces, while even being a student who was tested in gifted programs, even in those spaces, math, I didn't necessarily feel like it was a home for me during elementary, middle, and high school.
I will say I was very fortunate to have wonderful teachers along the way, that encouraged me and pushed me, especially in high school. I had two wonderful teachers, Mr. Goodson is one of them and Ms. Griffin, both black teachers that really poured and loved on me, but I still, even in high school did not see the type of ways that they love math that I did only until it was in college.
Dr. Jessup: I realized, "Hey, I know this, I can do this." And even though in high school, even having taking two math courses every single year, because I didn't take elective courses, I took extra math and language, foreign languages, I still didn't see. But honestly, when I became a classroom teacher, working with students and helping them connect and think about mathematics in ways that I didn't have those opportunities, really helped me fall in love with math. So, a love for math comes from my work with the students that I've had, and also as a professional development person, being a coach, working with teachers, and helping them to see that math can be more than what we thought it was, really has spurned it.
So it's crazy to think that it took so much longer for me to think about, "Wow, yes, I belong in math spaces. Yes, I do love math. Yes, I can see benefits from mathematics," but it took much longer than maybe some people have experienced.
Marian: That is fascinating. Thank you for that.
Dr. Jessup: I would be remiss to say, I also was nicely encouraged to pursue mathematics, because my Mother who felt that mathematics was very important in helping me to gain access to a life in a world outside of where we were. So she saw mathematics as a gateway, at the time when I didn't see it. And so I do want to have to always remember that, because while even though I didn't see it, she was still like, "No, you're going to take these classes, take these classes." So I appreciate her persistence even when I didn't see it.
Marian: Wow. Mothers always know, don't they?
Dr. Jessup: Don't they? Don't they.
Marian: That's so interesting. It makes me wonder how many of us that are into math or math education began that way. For me, I've always loved math. I've always grown up thinking that I could do it. And that came from my Father. And I hear in your story, is that connection to your Mother. It's interesting, very interesting. So, we're now in the summer, it's June when we're taping this now. You just finished your second year as a math ed researcher. You are also a mother yourself now, and you are a wife. And we find ourselves in a global pandemic. We, as black women are having, I think a particular reaction to recent events and those events are resulting in this now, not just a global pandemic, but a global protest.
So, we both know each other. We have presented together. We're both in Atlanta. We've had conversations. We both have said that mathematics should be used to find solutions to social injustice. So now during this time, how do you reconcile mathematics to your positionality now? How do you see us navigating this moment to produce those solutions or to produce a framework for thinking about them?
Dr. Jessup: That's a great question, and a heavy question.
Marian: I mean, we talk about this all the time. We talk about how there's this moment and you've been busy, busy, busy, busy, busy producing. And that's phenomenal to me. Can we talk about what has been keeping you so busy these days?
Dr. Jessup: Yeah. I'm going to say it's really hard to try to communicate these words without emotion, so I'll try my best.
Marian: Oh, you don't have to. It's okay. I'm right here with you.
Dr. Jessup: So for me, it's been really interesting. And interesting really isn't the word. But, with the global pandemic, seeing how COVID-19 has really shifted how we have thought about schooling, engaging with kids, there are lots of things that I experienced and saw as it mother, as the life of an educator, as a black woman. And then, again with all of the racial injustices that have happened in the world, I'm trying to find opportunities to not... And I'm probably not answering your question, but I'm trying to find the space to pause, but I haven't been able to find that place of pause, because I have realized and recognized just the need to fight and advocate, particularly for parents and parents of color, and students and students of color, in ways that I see in mathematics education, we are not having these conversations.
So, I've spent a lot of time reading, writing, talking to black mothers, black parents in the communities about their experiences, and we're all trying to uplift each other. And I'm realizing that in mathematics education and our research, we are not engaging with parents. Like our research, and there are groups that have research, but then most of our work and what we do, we're leaving out voices that are important. So, I spent a lot of time thinking about this relationship, this shift in power dynamics that have happened now with COVID that we've put parents in this role for them to be educators. But yet we talk about parents in such deficit ways. So if we think about the tension of seeing parents on Facebook or other social media places where there's all this talk about new math and parents don't understand, but what have we done as a mathematics education community that have fostered conversations, that have tried to bridge this gap to help and communicate what these ideas may not be right or wrong, but there's so much. So anyway, I say all of that to say that I have been really, really thinking about talking to you and trying to voice things that are happening with black families during this time, because it's important.
And so my hope is that as we start going back to school, whatever that looks like, that we are actually thinking about, what does it mean to partner with families? What does it mean to walk alongside? What does it mean to see them as a resource? Because also, one thing that I know is that a lot of the stuff that was being brought home, black families are like, "This is not working for us." This is really steeped in like white Eurocentric ways of thinking about mathematics. This does not connect to my community. Or there's so much other stuff going on, I do not care about that. So there's also the humanizing aspects of mathematics that we are not talking about, that we're not bringing about. And so it's just been really disheartening to think about that, the way that we've been using mathematics, the way that our government has been using mathematics has been just a way of communicating, "This is what happened. This is what's happening. This is what's going on."
People are absorbing that and not thinking that mathematics is actually connected to people, to their lives, to what's happening. And so I'm wrestling with that. And so I don't know, you're asking what type of frameworks should be moving forward? But we really desperately need to think about how we can humanize or rehumanize mathematics. Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez talks about that. There's other people talk about mathematics for human flourishing. Like there's so much work out there that we need to do to think about mathematics in ways that are humanizing, but then also ways that can be empowering for our children, for our communities. So one thing, I'm sorry, I'm just talking. But one thing that really stands out to me also that I was writing about is that our mathematics curriculum also is not helping, nor is it preparing generations of children to really think critically about the world.
We're not giving them those tools because of the ways in which we think about doing mathematics. So even for example, in Georgia, there is so much data out there about what was happening, what's going on with COVID, about disparities in terms of the disproportionality of who is catching COVID, who's being hospitalized that were really linked to black communities. But data was shared from our department of public health that had a graph that made it look like that we were flattening the curve. And that graphic was incorrect.
Dr. Jessup: And because there's so much pushback, people are like, "This doesn't make sense." Like, okay, we need to change it. And they corrected it. But this is idea of we need to develop curriculum that helps develop ideas such as statistical literacy. So kids are thinking about things and questioning it and using mathematics to do it. But we're just not there yet.
Dr. Jessup: And I don't know, what does it take for us to start actually doing things related to curriculum? So that it's empowering kids and communities and generations to think and question like, "What does it mean to actually partner with families? What does it mean to not blame them for not doing something instead of partner?" Like there's so much, but that's what I've been doing. I've been writing, reading, talking, and trying to elevate those voices and experiences because we need to do better. We have to do better. And I'm like, when we start back in whatever that is, we have to do something. So anyway, that was a long response.
Marian: Girl. I'm sitting here, I'm looking at you on the screen and I have chill bumps. I am nodding. I am giving you high fives. I'm giving you snaps. It is a lot. It is a lot. Let me react to a couple of things I heard you say. This is emotional work. It is particularly emotional for black people. I think this is a moment where we have got to be able to say that out loud and name that. I also heard you talk about the need to do. Normally we talk about production as being a tendency that's negative, but for us, what is the choice? Right? Like we don't have a choice. That pausing, that looking, and that observing and analyzing people are dying and ooh, okay. I'm going to pause for a moment and get myself together.
Dr. Jessup: This is hard which is why I had to pause earlier. This is not a joke. This is not, I think there's also this long pause because there have been so many people before us who have voiced concerns, who have written about, who have shared stories and they fall on deaf ears. And you get to a point where you wonder how much pain, how much death, what is it going to take for people to act, to start acknowledging that our country was founded with white supremacy ideologies.
And it has infiltrated everything that we do even into the mathematics that we teach, their curriculum that's created, the way that we view communities. It is invasive. It is everywhere. And I think it's just heavy because there are generations of people who have known this, who have experienced it. Yeah. It's just hard.
Marian: It is. Thank you. Thank you for saying that out loud. Thank you for naming that. I've been thinking a lot lately about generations and the rage that I feel now and the helplessness. Every day, I don't think there's a day that has gone by that I have not apologized to my children that they are living in this place where you can't breathe, that you don't know if you're going to survive. It feels like generations and generations, no matter how many points like this we've come to, we all, we come here, we think, "Okay, this is it. This is the moment. This is the moment things are going to change." And they go back to where they were.
And now I'm thinking about how my own parents must've felt, when you get to that point where you realize you didn't do it. And their parents. Question three is about the children. We always say the children will lead us. We always ask about how are the children? I'm seeing a lot of tweets now about what children are saying, what point we're in now, how they are leading us. There's one particular video that I can't get out of my mind today that features a black girl who is leading a protest saying, "No justice, no peace."
I am that little girl. We all are that little girl, our parents were, their parents were. So now they're taking the lead in disruption and I'm glad that they're stepping up and I'm frustrated and angry and sad that they have to. So as a mom, can we start talking about how this is affecting our own children? Can you offer any experiences that you've had through this time or through the past, somehow connecting mathematics to where we are now? Also a heavy question.
Dr. Jessup: So you would like for me to think of that as a mother, how I can connect those experiences and then think about how it relates to mathematics?
Marian: Yeah. Like we talk, like I said, we've talked before about how our own children feel about math and the experiences that they've had and relating those experiences to math, to where the world is today.
Dr. Jessup: So I can give you two examples from different children. But I remember one of my sons in middle school, towards the very beginning of the year, his teacher, white lady, told him that, "Well, I think based on ethos data and just how you are, I don't think that you're going to past in your grade math test."
Marian: What point of the year was that, that he was told that?
Dr. Jessup: This was probably the beginning, maybe ... It was somewhere in the first quarter. He came home and was like, "Guess what my teacher said to me?" And like, "Okay." But what was really interesting was having a conversation with him about, "Well, what do you think about it?" And he was like, "I mean, how does she know that I'm not going to pass? I mean, I haven't been there?" So he was more questioning what does that mean?
But either way, I said, "Well, what do you want to do about it?" So every day he would bring work home. His teacher would teach one method and it was not making sense to him. "Okay, well, there's other ways to do mathematics, so let's do some other ways."
Dr. Jessup: And we literally did that every day. It's different when you are supporting homework than when you're teaching the content.
Marian: Yes, yes.
Dr. Jessup: So I became his math teacher that whole year. And even though I know there's really not a lot of validity in the grade test scores-
Dr. Jessup: ... but for this example, we were excited because at the time the scale was up to a five so he made the highest level for math. And her response was like, "Wow, I didn't even know you could do that," was her response.
Dr. Jessup: And so, but we had to continue on, on that journey for him every year for mathematics classes, even in high school. So we're doing ... That was before they changed their, all the algebras, that was his math journey. So Alice's math teacher from middle school to high school, because of the ways that he was positioned as a learner ... as a young black man, that at one point, which is always ... This is frustrating too. In kindergarten and elementary he was the cute, quiet, black kid. So when I would have parent teacher conferences and ask about how is he doing, "He is just so sweet. He is just so nice. He never gets in trouble." Everything was behavioral.
Dr. Jessup: And I was like, "Yeah, because I'm his mama. I mean, I'm not..."
Marian: And they're surprised, right? They're surprised?
Dr. Jessup: And it was a surprise that this black boy is doing whatever he's supposed to, that there really wasn't this focus on his learning. And then when we go to middle and high school, is this assumption because they're not cute anymore. That's what happens, white boys somehow ... There's this threshold and they become a threat or whatever the case.
Marian: Absolutely. They're scary, very scary.
Dr. Jessup: Then there's this assumption that he can or cannot. Which is also weird, because also he's into arts and stuff, so for him, he were like, "Do I really have to go to school for all this? Because I would rather just learn this." I'm like, "No, you got to do it."
Dr. Jessup: But that's another story. But I also have another story of my ... Again, of the power teacher. So if nothing else, people plead here of the harm that teachers can do and the power in their words. So my daughter, because of the things that we saw with our middle son, we were like, "Okay, we're going to make sure that she definitely has a strong identity in terms of her mathematical identity."
So she would love to do all types of stuff. We would do math videos. So by the time she got to middle school, so I don't know what's going on with middle school. But by the time she got to middle school, she was doing things like multiplying, she could do ... She could do so many things mentally. She really felt like she had a great grasp.
Marian: It's all that pre-teaching that we have to do, so they don't get harmed.
Dr. Jessup: And that is so true. And then I also become very aware that I am in such a great place of privilege, that that also weighs on me because I know everybody else does not have that opportunity. And that people look at our children as though they're not capable, they're not able. And what's so problematic is that ideas of anti-blackness do not just reside in white teachers. They reside in black teachers, in Latinx teachers. Because as a society, we have bought this lot and we have seen so many images and we have made ... We have just drank the Kool-Aid, in terms of how we think about black bodies. And sometimes we don't even realize that we're replicating as people of color, the same stuff that we talk about and complain that white people do.
Marian: It's so true.
Dr. Jessup: So in this example, my daughter. She started transitioning from fifth grade to sixth grade, and she'd always make great grades again. I know grades can be subjective, scores on integrate tests, never a problem. But because of how the teaching was done in terms of math, this focus on just fluency, fluency, fluency, and only doing it a certain way. And my daughter was like, it just wasn't clicking with her. She came home and was like, "I do not like math. I can't do math." Her whole idea of who she thought she was as a mathematician was gone in a matter of two to three weeks being in school.
So again, here again, I'm like, "What the heck is happening that the ..." So think about it. Years of schooling, and even before school being poured into, in terms of who she was, knowing that she was able to do things was in two weeks, was taken away because of whatever was happening in the classroom room. And so again, there's this idea, "No, you can do this. You know this stuff."
And so again, now we're at a point and I joke, I tweet about it. "She came across some videos." Like, "No, we can do math." And then she started watching some video about the power of algebra or something. And she was like, "Oh my gosh, mom. Why didn't you tell me about algebra? This is amazing." I still don't know what this video is that made her fall in love with algebra. This summer she was like, "Can I just sign up for a algebra class?" There was some ...
And so she's now back into again, having this love for math. But she was like, "Well, can't you just be my math teacher?" And I'm like, "I will be your math teacher, but then I can't be everybody's math teacher." I can't be the teacher for all of the children who their teachers don't think they can and cannot-
Marian: Yes. Yes.
Dr. Jessup: I can't do that. And I need other people that step up, but it just bothers me so much, because I am literally seeing this happen. This is happening in my own house. And I have resources to help my children. Everyone does not have that.
I don't even know what your question was. I just know, thank you for...
Marian: No, no, this is good. This is good.
Dr. Jessup: This is real life, people.
Dr. Jessup: This is real. And I wish that I could not have the emotion that I have, but this is real. Honestly, this work, it hits me in maybe ways that other people who may do quote unquote equity work. I don't know, because maybe you can drop your hat at the door and not think about these issues because it doesn't impact your life. I'm literally every day, while we're in this COVID era, I am everyday thinking about, "Oh my gosh, this is going to be generations of children who are going to continually be ..." I am thinking about the children. I am thinking about their experiences because I know what happens.
And so I'm like, I mean, I'm trying to care, but I care so much because I know the impact. And I have been that student, my children have been that student. And so it's just a labor of love. And I will continue to be passionate because again, I'm not making these things up and it's not just my own experience, because other people are sharing their experiences. But I think it's really important.
Marian: So yes, again, thank you for just putting it out there, keeping it real.
Dr. Jessup: Yes.
Marian: This is something that we're in this situation, and we see our kids in this situation. And we know that our parents were in a similar situation. I don't know of any black parents that are teachers or not teachers, that haven't had difficulty in school, especially in math. I mean, this is something that happens, it is real. So thank you for bringing that up. I also-
Dr. Jessup: Yeah. I was just going to... Go ahead.
Marian: No, you go. You're the guest. Go.
Dr. Jessup: No, no, no. I was just going to also say lots of people who talk about that mathematics acts as a gatekeeper and it does, and I've seen it and we continue to do it. It happens in early in elementary schools, but why people think certain issues only pop up later, I don't know. But I really hope that with everything that is happening in our world, that people will take a moment to just listen to the stories that people are telling and not initially questioning it, but really thinking deeply about, "Wow, I didn't know. Why is it like this? Have I played a role? What can I do to help change?" Because we are tired of saying the same thing over and over for generations for people to listen and it's so unfortunate that our country has to literally be on fire for people to start listening. That's a shame-
Marian: Or other countries to recognize it's on fire. Other countries, I'm at a loss. Okay. So now this is going to be probably the toughest question. Maybe the most important question. You know the question, the self-care question. So I'm thinking about when Catherine and I had this conversation and she talked about the pedagogy of pause, meaning the recognition that you have to rest, that you can't keep going, going, going, going. And I know that you have just finished a season of fever pitch, writing articles after article, and now with "summer", where theoretically we would be resting and making up for all that lost time. Rests looks different now. Rest definitely can feel like a luxury that we can't afford. Everyone thinks of rest differently, of course, but for us, for black people, for black women who are supposed to be the nurturers of the home and the society, it's really, really challenging. So I'd like to maybe think about how we can expand that idea of self-care that maybe sometimes self-care is different than their traditional eat water, drink food. What are your thoughts?
Dr. Jessup: Yeah, for me, I think what's been really helpful is I have made sure that my schedule prioritizes time with my family. So to me, that's an aspect of self-care. That is very important. My family breathes the life back into me. We enjoy each other. So it's great. So we have designated, people know certain times know we have family lunchtime. We have organized breakfast. We have organized family time every day. I have really tried to ensure that there are designated times where we're all together. My partner and I, we exercise and we have done that because I also realize the exercise helps with all of the stresses that my body is experiencing.
Yeah. Then also self-care can look like protecting yourself from ideologies that aren't helpful. So I have really taken time to go through my social media and clean my list. And even my... Just to say, "You know what? I do not." It's really challenging when it feels as though you have to fight people, not fight because I don't really engage that way. But when people do not see the humanity in you or your people to allow them the opportunity for their voice to shape your day. So that has been very helpful for me to eliminate those voices. I am one that I don't necessarily mind engaging in conversations with people, but I've had to really consider what that looks like. Especially, yeah, I just had to really reconsider what does that look like? What is my role? Or if you just need to go to the bank, we need to build some stuff up, please-
Marian: That's right.
Dr. Jessup: If you're asking, "I didn't know racism. What is racism?" You did not come to me with that question maybe I'll just once. Now, if you want to have a conversation later, and if I know you... If I don't... So there's so many layers again, I am trying to protect myself because, at the end of the day, I want to be there for my family. I want to be there for my community for generations to come. So in order for me to do that, I have to find ways to protect myself from the harm of others who don't care.
Marian: Oh! Now that's a word. That's a word in a world where you don't feel safe. Yes. Self-protection is a thing. Thank you for that. A friend of mine recommended a rubric. Which at first, I thought was a little hokey but then I thought about it and processed it. It's not really a rubric, but it's just a series of questions that I'm asking myself. What is the purpose? Does this give me joy before I engage? But yeah, I really liked the part that you said about making sure that you are still here to do the work in the first place. That's really, really important. Wow. So thank you so much. I'm feeling good. How do you feel? I feel good that some things were said, and we got some things out. Anything else that you'd like to say that you didn't think of before?
Dr. Jessup: No. I don't know if I envisioned our conversation being so heavy, but it could also be just a reflection of where I am, where many of us are. I just thank you for the opportunity, for the chance to share and hope that there's... Yeah. I'm just hopeful that there will be many people who will figure out ways, like actionable steps to... Just everything more inclusive of the people who inhabit this world.
Dr. Jessup: I really thank you.
Marian: Oh, absolutely. I just thought of one more thing. Now there's this moment where people are coming out with statements and yeah. And you laugh and people react to, why are you laughing? This is a good thing. People are realizing where they are and time will tell. But along with the statements, going back to what you said about, we've been saying this for centuries. Maybe it's also a time not just to listen, but to reflect on what you already heard and what you already chose not to act upon. Anyway...
Dr. Jessup: Yeah, don't... Yeah. I was going to say I won't talk about statements so we can have statements and people feel obligated and needed to have statements but unless we are changing policies and practices then those statements are statements.
Dr. Jessup: We need to actually do some things, plural, many things.
Marian: So, I thank you, Naomi, I wish you a wonderful rest of your day and peace and see you next time when we text.
Marian Dingle is a teacher who pushes for change through students, striving to educate through a social justice lens. Currently a Grade Level Chairperson, a 4th and 5th grade educator and an instructional mentor. She is most passionate about mathematics, seeking to diversify mathematics curriculum through highlighting the work of mathematicians of color. She has keynoted at Twitter Math Camp, serves on their board and is a contributing writer for the Global Math Department. She has also presented her action research at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.
Follow Marian on Twitter @DingleTeach
Dr. Naomi Jessup is an assistant professor of mathematics education at Georgia State University, Atlanta GA. Naomi has more than 15 years of experience in mathematics education at the K-12 and university level serving as an elementary school teacher, K-8 mathematics instructional coach, and formative assessment coach (school and district level), and methods course instructor. One aspect of Naomi’s research studies teacher learning and development, with an emphasis on using critical theories to interrogate mathematics curriculum and pedagogical practices in elementary spaces. Another aspect of her research seeks to highlight the experiences of Black families in mathematics education.
Follow Dr. Jessup on Twitter @mathedmatters