Build Community While Doing Math

Communities of Character.

If you ask adults about their experiences with mathematics most will have a traumatic story that dates back to elementary school. They can recall who was good at math and who was bad at math. The idea that everyone has skill at math is not even considered.

As a mathematics educator I am deeply situated within an education “community” (ironic how we use that term) which almost single handedly is responsible for the work that reinforces the individual. Test based assessments that focus on algorithms rather that concepts. Ranking students as “regular” and “modified”. Mathematics as the “gatekeeper” for university entrance. Entrance to university perceived as being based on marks alone. Teachers feeling judged based on the accomplishments of their students on standardized tests.

“But we live in an era and under a testing regime that emphasizes individual accomplishments, not community cohesion. Even when schools talk about values, they tend to talk about individualistic values, like grit, resilience and executive function, not the empathy, compassion and solidarity that are good for community and the heart.” (David Brooks, Communities of Character. New York Times, Retrieved November 27, 2015, http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/11/27/opinion/communities-of-character.html?_r=0&referer)

The mathematics classroom seems to be a microcosm of the “haves” and the “have-nots”. “P or not P”. There is no space in between. Brooks’s article (along with some study of Socratic education) led me to reconsider what the space in between consists of; this space contains the interactions between the pupils. Within these student interactions teacher look to find the learning, the questioning, the socratic dialogue critical to move students beyond their current knowledge. This is the construction of new knowledge to help narrow the gap between the “P and not P”.

Communities of empathy are a powerful place to look for what educationally is required in a classroom setting to help students develop valuable skills that will move them all forward and keep them learning.  Everyone has a place of value in a classroom community.
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