[Note: It's summer, and I am extra rambly. If you want just the math bits, skip ahead to Paragraph 3. "In thinking about some random social issues..."]
I write this entry from New Orleans. Geoff and I are staying here for a month to leisurely get to know the city, and on Day 1 I already fell in love with the unbelievable charm of the city. Even though we are staying in an "okay" part of town (Bywater), the houses here have such an old-school charm to them, with warm-colored trims, southern-style porches, and some with painted rocking chairs outside. The summer air here is dense with moisture and heat in between the thunderstorms. On our first night, we walked to a popular soul food restaurant called Praline Connection, which is supposed to have the best fried chicken in town according to Yelp and some locals who were waiting around in line with us. I ate some delicious fried chicken livers, but didn't dare to over-indulge because they were fried in the same deep fryer as shellfish, to which I am "severely" allergic. I survived ok in the end without getting an allergic reaction, and I rejoiced over the fried goodness! While we were waiting for our table at Praline Connection, we had walked around Frenchmen Street and heard beautiful jazz music seeping out from a bar called the Spotted Cat Music Club. We stopped in there, originally just for a drink while we waited for the restaurant, but we were so charmed by the old-timey jazz sounds and by the spontaneous dancing we saw, that we couldn't help ourselves but to also swing dance a little. (We only danced one song before we were overwhelmed by an avalanche of sweat. Afterwards, a mom kindly offered us baby wipes to attempt to dry our faces.)
Today, I spent most of the day reading up about New Orleans. Now that I have an idea where things are located relatively, I am both surprised and heart-broken to read that the Lower 9th Ward, or the area hardest-hit by Hurricane Katrina and that had never come close to recovering, is just east of where we are staying. In his morning jog, Geoff had run all the way up to the levee bordering the Lower 9th Ward and almost crossed over on the bridge. (Thank goodness he didn't, because as it turns out, it may not be safe to cross over there even during the day. Many of the houses are still vacant, and the many dogs left behind after Katrina are now feral and carrying unknown diseases borne out of the abandoned houses. Besides that, locals tell us that New Orleans, like many big cities, suffers from a lot of gang-related violence, which has proliferated in some of the areas hardest hit by the hurricane, including the area just north of the first major street from us, St. Claude Ave.) It's different when you read about it in the news from a distance than when you are here. It breaks my heart that such a beautiful city has had such a tough time, for so long now, and is still struggling to rebuild. I also don't know what to think of their nearly all-charter "public school" education.
In thinking about some random social issues, I did a bit of digging into resources to help me think about ways of linking math with social justice issues. Here is a great PDF guide for incorporating social justice into math from Jonathan Osler, which is only a starting point to digging into various specific issues at his website Radical Math.
I love that:
1. His resources are free.
2. He's straight up. "Good math doesn't mean good politics. [...] Talking about a jar of Jelly Beans can be a fun way to study Probability. But studying probability in the context of a unit on how the Lottery increases the economic divide between the rich and the poor will allow the class to cover the same mathematical content while simultaneously investigating an important issue of economic inequality. [Likewise, good] politics doesn't mean good math. [...] It is an act of social in-justice to deny young people the opportunity to master the math that they are in your class to learn." (Pg. 5 of the PDF guide)
3. His website is very usable, searchable both by math topics and by social issues.
4. He has sample lessons in his PDF guide, and they are authentically interesting.
5. The "Math Skills and Social Justice Topics Chart" at the end of his PDF is great as a starting point / dashboard of ideas. It's easy to read and could inspire you to think about social justice more regularly as an accessible lesson-planning focal point.
That is it! I hope you've found today's resource to be useful (although probably not cheerful). Do you know of other great resources on social justice math?