Social Justice, Math, and Why We Teach Now

by Jordan Pandy, Education Town Hall intern

0807755877Guests Sonia Nieto and Mary Cowhey discussed Why We Teach Now, the sequel to the popular book Why We Teach, on the June 18 Education Town Hall. During their time on the show they also examined the current state of teachers in the United States. (Bios for Sonia Nieto and Mary Cowhey below.)

Track 3 —

Nieto starts the conversation off by detailing the configuration of Why We Teach Now and why she decided to write it, “very few teachers get to say what they believe and what they think about public education…” The book points out the difficulties and pressures teachers, students, and entire communities face on a day-to-day basis, and how these difficulties can be overcome. Nieto especially highlights the effects of testing standards on everyone involved.

Cowhey, the Title I math teacher, explains her essay, “Doing Social Justice Through Math” which is featured in Nieto’s book. She then describes the coming together of students and parents to get a better understanding of what is being taught in their schools, largely math.

With the help of family and community volunteers, Cowhey is able to run a morning math club two days a week, an hour before school. The goal is not only to help students and their parents understand the math presented to them, but also to make them aware of social justice by incorporating real world scenarios and aspects of civil rights into the lessons:

I also looked at focusing on math as an opportunity to be able to really dig deeper into the questions about why some of our students, especially a lot of our low income students, are really struggling with math… I could really see more clearly the social justice issue that’s involved when kids don’t get an adequate math education and really how they start to get left out of the conversation.

Sonia Nieto goes on to speak about how teachers around the United States are not being heard, and why Why We Teach Now is a great platform for them. The broadcast concludes with both Sonia Nieto and Mary Cowhey underlining the importance of public education and the importance of teachers. “Teaching is very hard, but it is hopeful,” said Nieto.

Why We Teach Now can be found at Busboys and Poets (bookstores now run by Politics and Prose), through Teaching for Change — who organized Nieto’s DC reading — or wherever books are sold.

The Education Town Hall broadcasts from Historic Anacostia in Washington, DC, Thursdays
at 11:00 a.m. Eastern on We Act Radio.
Listen live via TuneIn.
Shows are archived for convenient listening shortly after broadcast.

Next week:

The Education Town Hall BUS is a monthly program
organized by BadAss Teachers, United Opt Out, and SOS March.
The program regularly airs on the 4th Thursday of each month.


Mary Cowhey
Mary Cowhey has taught first and second grade at Jackson St. School in Northampton, MA since 1997 and is the author of Black Ants and Buddhists: Thinking Critically and Teaching Differently in the Primary Grades (Stenhouse, 2006). She is currently a Title 1 math teacher and math coach at Jackson St. School.

Her essays and articles on education have been published in What Keeps Teachers Going, Why We Teach, Dear Paulo: Letters From Those Who Dare Teach, Teaching With Fire, Multicultural Tools and Strategies for Teaching Young Children, Teaching Tolerance, Rethinking Schools, Instructor, Connect and public radio.

Sonia Nieto
Sonia Nieto, Professor Emerita of Language, Literacy, and Culture, School of Education at University of Massachusetts. She began her teaching career as a junior high school teacher of English, Spanish, and ESL in Ocean Hiil/Brownsville, Brooklyn. Her first position in higher education was as an Instructor in the Department of Puerto Rican Studies at Brooklyn College, where she taught in a bilingual education teacher preparation program co-sponsored with the School of Education.

She speaks and writes on multicultural education, teacher preparation, the education of Latinos, and other culturally and linguistically diverse student populations.


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