Thank you to the many teachers who reached out looking for social justice resources. We hear you, and we appreciate the challenge. Like many folks, we sometimes feel discouraged by the politicized nature of what we view as a straightforward moral issue, and it is always encouraging to see CPM teachers stand up and take action for social justice. We’ve got you.
For our part, we, the CPM writers, stand squarely with the black families, LGBTQIA+, women, immigrants, and other oppressed groups calling for social justice in this moment. We are those people and we travel in those circles. We say unequivocally that we are all more alike than different and all deserving of dignity and respect. We say with one voice that Black Lives Matter. Gay Lives Matter. Trans and Immigrant Lives Matter.
Beyond being an ally, we are staking out a position as advocates. We recognize that as a curriculum in use in thousands of classrooms nationwide, we are the institution, and so we must be the change. So what are we doing?
Over the past year, the CPM team has been working to incorporate social justice and anti-racism into a more culturally responsive curriculum. We had been hoping to release some of these upgrades over the next year or two, but the moment calls for some more timely action. To that end, we would like to share a little of our thinking and a couple things for you to try in your classroom this Fall.
According to Dr. Kwame Anthony Scott (see his NCTM presentation, July 15, 2020), there are three ways to bring social justice to math classes. We can make lessons ABOUT social justice (some non-CPM examples)(gdoc), run our classes WITH social justice (and we encourage all our teachers to do that; (here are some resources)(gdoc), and/or we can equip our students FOR social justice (by giving them the necessary tools to engage as citizens). Much has been shared by others that push forward one or another of these fronts. Our task has been integrating those approaches into something coherent that “fits” in the CPM classroom without compromising the alignment or rigor of our curriculum.
As we reflect on how best to incorporate these three strands into our work, we observe with pride that CPM is much further along on the second two (the WITH and FOR social justice and anti-racism strands) than most curricula. We have long advocated for a deeper and more connected mathematics based on sense-making over a broad and shallow mathematics based on prescribed procedural knowledge and rule-following. We structure classes in teams and provide Study Team and Teaching Strategies to encourage and model productive discourse within and between those teams. We provide guidance on norms and team roles to help students feel safe sharing rough draft ideas and interrogating each other’s thinking. Closure activities routinely bring the whole class together for discussion.
We design tasks to be accessible to students with diverse backgrounds and strengths, and we spiral our curriculum to develop mastery over time so that if students miss days they do not fall hopelessly behind. We also try to place our problems in social contexts so students can practice using mathematical thinking in their lives. We want our classrooms to serve as models for the world we wish to see. (This is, incidentally, why we have resisted calls for multiple choice and standardized assessments.) The impact of our approach is visible in growing student mathematical ability and confidence (and yes, increasing test scores), but also in improvements in how our students handle disagreements productively and work together for common causes. These are some of the benefits of our approach to teaching and learning. That our approach and results align well with the WITH and FOR approaches to social justice is neither lost on us nor unintentional. That is not to say that we are wholly satisfied that we in fact run our classrooms with social justice and for anti-racism all the time (Please see Stephanie’s article about how you can run your classroom with a more culturally responsive pedagogy), only to acknowledge that those elements must not be sacrificed going forward.
That said, like many of you, we are disappointed with how little our materials have done ABOUT social justice to date. We are working now to fill that gap as thoughtfully as we can. We are further along than we have let on, but doing this right is important to us, so we have not been sharing as much rough-draft thinking as perhaps we should have. For a taste of what we are working on, please see the article on data talks (with examples of edgier questions) and watch the Try This page for future lessons. We encourage you to take a look, try them with students, provide feedback, and make these tools your own. We are also calling for submissions at the end of this newsletter if you have ideas for more routines or lessons, especially to engage students in mathematical conversations ABOUT social justice.
Again, thank you to all those who reached out (and those of you who thought about it). It is always encouraging to see allies on the front lines. Keep up the good fight; we are coming with reinforcements. Please accept our apology for not getting to this work sooner – we all have to learn some time – and know that we appreciate your patience as we try to get it right. More to come.
Yours In Solidarity,
The CPM Writing Team
P.S. Here are some other action steps you can take in the meantime:
Read the article, If you really want to make a difference in Black lives, change how you teach White kids.
Read these books and discuss with colleagues: How to Be Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
Spend money in Black-owned businesses. You can find local Black-owned businesses.
Call your mayor to press for specific local actions.
Call your congressional representative to press for a national registry of violent police, a national law eliminating qualified immunity, and an end to redlining.
Call your local state government representative and push for more equitable school funding.
You can find your representatives.