1. Create classrooms in which that is true (and serve as a microcosm of this vision of an equitable broader society): in which students (and the teacher) see each other, understand each other, support each other, and learn from each other, both in terms of what they bring into the classroom and in terms of what they create/do once they're there.
- To do this, teachers must create what Esmonde (2009) writes about as intersubjectivity: a shared meaning of a situation, or a meaning that's as shared as possible. Through classroom culture, through structures, through relationships, teachers develop a space in which students actively seek to understand one another (even if they disagree with one another), and engage in related behaviors such as asking clarifying questions, building on ideas, inviting one another to speak, etc. It's Staples' idea of creating common ground, and central to the model of a participatory democracy in which well-informed citizens are able to create the world they aspire to live in, rather than just being acted upon by those with more power.
- For intersubjectivity to exist, teachers must pay attention to the intersection of identity and ideas, because they so deeply influence each other.
- Our identities (both the more macro identity markers such as race, class, language, gender, ability, etc. and the more transient identities that we negotiate in the moment depending on our context) influence the experiences we have, because of how people respond to us and what they expect from us-- whether they expect us to have good ideas in an academic environment or not (Nasir and Shah write about how African-American boys interpret racialized narratives about who is good at math, particularly in comparison to Asian-Americans)-- and they also directly influence our ideas because these experiences shape how we understand the world and how we think and reason. While several of the pieces I've read about identity and status in math classrooms focus on ideas of smartness and competence, we must also be explicitly conscious of race and other social identity markers. Two primary reasons occur to me: 1) we cannot create equitable environments without being sensitive and responsive to the ways in which our identities-- particularly visible and marginalized ones-- have shaped our life experiences and therefore the beliefs and behaviors we bring into a classroom, and 2) because our socially marked identities are a rich, important, fundamental part of who we are and ignoring them means seeing only part of us, shortchanging what makes us who we are. In the article cited above, Esmonde summarizes this as saying "identity-related processes are just as central to mathematical development as content learning."
- When we have good ideas, which we gauge through signals from others about whether they value our ideas, we develop identities as people who have good ideas; people who are smart, people who are competent, people who are valued. And it's particularly important for students from traditionally marginalized backgrounds to develop those identities to counteract the messages they're receiving from the broader society on a regular basis.
2. Use such classrooms and the affirming space they create to explicitly discuss and address why this is so hard to do as a society more broadly, given what has happened in history, given our psychological and cognitive biases, given power structures that are difficult to change, etc.
- To do that, teachers must be aware of and create connections between what happens in a classroom and what happens outside it; for example, a breach of classroom norms could be an opportunity to discuss what happens when societal expectations are thwarted, using any number of examples, depending on students' interests and on current events: when someone doesn't follow gender norms and is shamed or bullied; when a relationship doesn't fit mainstream images of "normal" and the partners are harassed; when people and institutions we're supposed to trust-- who are supposed to protect and serve us-- instead become the ones who we fear most. Where does the norm come from? Why do people respond the way they do when they sense a breach, and how does that compare to the way they should respond? Does it matter who's breaching the norm? How egregious the breach is? Where or when the breach happens? Consider the ways in which we've addressed the breach in our classroom; could that process work outside of our classroom?
What do you think? What's my definition of equity missing, and what else can/should teachers do in its service?