Systems of Inequality in Context

Town Square Delaware features monthly reflections from Laurisa Schutt, executive director of Teach for America – Delaware and two TFA teachers who are teaching in Delaware schools this year.

“Ms. Gondwe, how can that mean less than or equal to? Shouldn’t it be just one or the other?” My student was looking in confusion towards the math symbols that were written on the board.

Recognizing and interpreting inequalities using appropriate math vocabulary is a state standard students are first exposed to in kindergarten. In high school, before students can begin to analyze systems of inequalities they first have to demonstrate mastery of the language to describe their observations in math terms.

While the math of inequality is challenging, the inequalities that define human relations around the world permeate every aspect of our lives. In order to prepare students for college, the military, and the workforce, my students have to graduate with an internal sense of how to use information – abstractly and concretely – in ways that empower them to persevere.

Math is a subject that relies on a person’s grasp of abstract theory in a way that later allows them to craft questions that lead to answers that are individually meaningful. My job as a teacher includes demystifying the complexities of mathematics so the Pythagorean Theorem, Standard Deviation, and other high-level content are rigorous and accessible. High expectations with efforts to awaken a sense of resilience according to each student’s ability across a variety of subjects not only prepares him or her to succeed in school, but builds the problem solving skills and confidence that will also help in life.

Very early in their lives, people learn to give up on their ability to do math. Negative conceptions of math cycle back into the classroom environment in the form of behaviors and attitudes towards education that reflect a sense of deep-seated hopelessness.  Attitudes toward math mirror attitudes toward the future.  My challenge is to make my classroom environment a place of healing that gives my students the confidence to be successful math students, and even more importantly, successful problem solvers who become the leaders who transform the systems of inequalities we all face.

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