RYSK: Gutiérrez's Political Conocimiento for Teaching Mathematics: Why Teachers Need It and How to Develop It (2018)

Rochelle Gutiérrez keynoting the 2016 CCTM Conference
I haven't used the "RYSK" tag for a blog post in almost four years, but only because I've taken to summarizing research over on the MathEd.net Wiki. That wiki turns five years old this month while this blog turns eight! I think my best strategy is to summarize on the wiki and editorialize here on the blog, and the events of this week demanded that I break my blogging silence and deal with an issue of the moment.

Last Monday I was riding the bus home when Google stuck an article from an anti-liberal education site called Campus Reform into my news feed. It was about a math education professor and white privilege, so I checked it out (in incognito mode — I try not to give Google the wrong ideas about the sites I want more news from). The article was about Rochelle Gutiérrez and honestly, it didn't say all that much except to highlight connections Rochelle was making between math and white privilege. The comments below the article were...what you'd probably expect. I closed the story and didn't think much about it, other than, "I wonder if this story will go anywhere?"

Go somewhere, it did. On Wednesday Google showed me that Fox News had picked up the story. Predictably in this era of internet news, it wasn't original reporting on the content of Rochelle's work. It was just a rehash of the Campus Reform article and it was getting a lot of comments. Judging by what I was seeing, the Fox News patrons didn't seem to have read Rochelle's work either. I searched Twitter for use of Rochelle's handle and saw she was getting a lot of negative comments with some blatant harassment thrown in (I reported one person whose account was subsequently found in violation of Twitter's rules). Those people didn't appear to have read Rochelle's chapter, either. (A notable exception: Jason Miller's post and conversation on Google+, which took the rational approach of asking "Does anyone know more about this?" and got replies like, "Here's more info, but not enough to draw conclusions." Score +1 for Google+.)

If I've learned anything in 2017, it's that I need to be upset/outraged on my own schedule and on my own terms. That usually means doing more listening and learning and not jumping into a soon-forgotten online fray. So I ordered the book Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods, in which Rochelle's chapter appears, and waited a few days for it to arrive so I could actually read it before commenting.

I've now read and summarized the chapter on the MathEd.net Wiki. Did Rochelle link the privilege of mathematics to the privilege of being White? Did she say we perpetuate that privilege when we focus on Greek mathematical history and not that of other peoples? Did she say we should see mathematical knowledge is relational, and not objective? Yes, she did say all those things, and in that way the original Campus Reform article was mostly accurate. Where it wasn't accurate — and led many other sites and their audiences astray — was representing Rochelle's chapter as mostly about those things. Rochelle made most of those statements in a page or two, then spent the rest of her 27 pages laying out a framework of teacher knowledge meant to help prospective teachers deal with the political realities that affect their work.

What strikes me after reading the chapter is that Rochelle names many political influences on teaching and education that are also common targets of the right: Common Core, Pearson, big philanthropic foundations, bureaucratic inefficiency and misdirection, and control of schools that doesn't reflect local needs. There is plenty of common ground to be explored in the chapter if people choose to look for it and discuss it. The news sites could have done that, but they didn't. It wouldn't be sensational enough to generate traffic and ad revenue, and their typical narrative doesn't leave room for discussing the development of political knowledge meant to benefit traditionally underserved students.

Now that things have (probably) quieted down, we can look at Rochelle's chapter for the reasons she wrote it: to inform math teacher educators who want to help prospective teachers deal with the political pressures and distractions that can interfere with giving students the help they need. If you are a math teacher educator, this looks like a book you should have. I've put the table of contents on the wiki along with the summary of Rochelle's chapter.