Feb. 1 kicks off the whirlwind race to remember and highlight the highs and lows of African-American and Black history.
Descendants of Africa have 28 days to crowd in reflections about centuries of history. In the Language Arts and Social Studies curricula Black History Month is well established. Come February, English teachers whip out poems by Black poets, history teachers take on slavery, the Middle Passage, The Underground Railway, racial injustices and the civil rights movement or abolition.
Sadly, in other subjects Black History Month is sadly overlooked if not neglected, and this has continued over time. Currently, in our educational school system, Black Students are severely underrepresented in the field of STEM school subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). Teachers are called upon, as an official component of the school curriculum, to integrate the STEM subjects with other school subjects.
In a (2015) article appearing in Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies, a survey of 245 Quebec teachers revealed that this mandated interdisciplinarity, as practiced and described by the teachers, was superficial at best, and merely based on links that did not enable an integration of the contributions of the subjects concerned in order to solve complex problems or attain integrated knowledge. The links mainly involved theme-based approaches. https://www.usherbrooke.ca/creas/fileadmin/sites/creas/documents/Publications/Articles_scientifiques/2015_M.
These findings, while revealing the inability of teachers to execute more than superficial interdisciplinary practices in their classrooms, have an impact that could also be felt among members of underrepresented communities.
Across this country many teachers hold the same uncooperative psychological posture with Black students, an attitude that binds the child to a culturally infertile arena where the monotony of formulaic recitation neither feeds the brain nor the heart. This is one of the underlying reasons why the minds of many Black boys and girls often remain unopened like a treasure chest at the bottom of the sea.
Simply put, Blacks want to see themselves in the roles of leaders in the STEM fields. They want to know the achievers, and an increased focus on Black scientists and mathematicians could be educationally beneficial. The issue is not about ability but about sustained and authentic engagement.
It is a common belief that race creates a susceptibility to understanding, although there is no valid research to suggest that Black children are inherently less able to decipher and solve the geometric challenges presented in the algorithms applicable to computer coding, or the inductive reasoning required of chess.
Mathematics is credited as being a universal language that has been universally applied in creating essentially all civilizations. Perplexingly, there is a racist belief that Black youth are disjoined from mathematics curriculum, due to a deep-seated version and cultural disposition towards education. However, this dangerous and quixotic belief is highlighted by interrelation to the under-subscription of Black students in what is quickly viewed as the most academic field—STEM education.
Incorporating Black History Month into a mathematics class may be a little complex, for in the quest to ensure that students learn the material most math teachers do not dwell on history lessons.
Black students will never develop an interest in mathematics or believe that they have a place where STEM is taught, until and unless they can name African pioneers of math like Imhotep (architect of the first step pyramid), George Carruthers or Katherine Johnson, the NASA research mathematician whose calculations were critical to the success of the moon landing.
You must tell them their cultural and historic connections to the subject. The kids feel like they have no connection to the formulas and concepts they are being shown. If you teach this as part of their cultural legacy, it will be more exciting to digest.
The movie Hidden Figures centers on three pioneering women: Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson, superlative mathematicians and engineers in their own right. Despite being beset by discrimination at home, work and school, shut out of promotions, meetings and exclusive programs on account of their colour, yet their calculations for NASA were intrinsic to several historic space missions, and their being instrumental in the successful orbiting of the Earth by John Glenn.
As this particular story unfolds, history is being rewritten in a different way. Let it serve as an inspirational factor, and the encouraging spool that unites the fabric of mathematical education. Black kids must be told their cultural and historic connections to the subject otherwise they feel disconnected to the formulas and concepts they are being shown. If it is taught as part of their cultural legacy, it will be more exciting to digest.
They definitely are not repossessed projects, nor are they lacking creativity as a result of oppression. Instead, like other students, they depend upon frameworks of academic success that pinpoints the numerous ways that creativity manifests itself.
Hidden Figures, the story of the contributions by three women to STEM overall, has emerged from the past to remind us that there is a much-needed focus on encouraging and guiding Black boys and girls in the direction of STEM fields.
This story must be continued throughout the year. We cannot afford to sit back and wait for 28.
Aleuta— The struggle