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Math Books That Will Change Your Teaching

Hey all!

I am an a super bloghop with a bunch of my mathy secondary friends!  

I chose to write about the book Multiplication is For White People by Lisa Delpit

In the wake of the Ferguson shooting I thought, for a hot second, about changing my book.  After all I am a white teacher, teaching in an urban school.  But then I was reminded of my DUTY of making sure that I point out injustices when I see them. That is THE ONE AND ONLY thing that I can do to help make sure that I am doing my part as a white person in the cause of racial inequity. 

The first time I read this book, my eyes were open.  The second time I read this book, I felt guilty as a white teacher.  The third time I read this book, I changed the way I teach.  The fourth time I read this book, I knew EVERY TEACHER IN THE WORLD SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.
  • Immediate changes I made:
    • HIGH expectations for all of my students. - a C is not acceptable in my classroom.  Kids know it, and work hard to do better.  Sympathy does not make a good student. Quit assuming students CANT or WONT do something and "dumb it down."  The Drive for excellence is real.  In Fact in schools we seem to belive that people are born into three categories of talent - low, average and high. "it is our primary job to find students' "correct" category and act with diligence to ensure that they stay in it." (pg. 150).  
      How many times have educators made the mistake of deciding the fate of their students based on their limited knowledge, experience and expertise? Too many times. The message Lisa Delpit has written in this book should be heard in many communities of teachers and learners. The education leaders in our schools have a lot of work to do beginning with educating themselves not only on the pedagogy of teaching and what works for the learner, but developing their knowledge and awareness of the inclinations of those they teach. When high expectations for learning and success are not part of an educator's tool kit then often the target of their work is resigned to failure and limited success.
    • Not push my values on others...EVER.  This book really taught me about values and how my values are being pushed on every child in the classroom whether they like them, believe in them, or not.  I was forced to challenge my own beliefs of what mathematical success is in my classroom and what is not, change the way I format my classes and how I write tests.  I needed to be the one to very specifically and transparently teach students how to study and what I mean when I say show your work.  I needed to also understand that my idea of "effort" is not and never will be the same as the ideas of others.  I needed to change the way that I portray my classroom so that others understand where I am coming from. 
    • There is a moment early in MIFWP where Delpit perfectly illustrates the problem that many parents feel when interacting with their students and homework. Her daughter is beginning to play softball and the coach tells parents to work on 'softball' skills with their daughters at home. Delpit confesses a complete ignorance of the game, knowing only bits of the sport, certainly no mastery of the complex physical, mental and athleticism involved. She recognizes in that moment how parents feel when they're told to help their children with homework. Delpit writes compellingly that the problems of urban education go beyond whether the schools are public, private, or charter, run by for profit companies or union teachers: Poverty, housing uncertainty, and the lack of security at home are never discussed by policy makers who think we can test our way out of the problem.  Therefore I needed to not expect that homework is:
      • going to get done at home (and not because of laziness...)
      • the end all be all application of topics covered
      • understood by parents to help the student
      • necessary at all ->in fact I no longer assign it. 
    • My judgement ended.  I think as a white educator it is very hard to admit when you have judged based off of class, religion or race.  ESPECIALLY when we like to think of our selves as advocators and allies. However I totally admit to doing this. I saw a kid come in with dirty clothes, and skin darker than mine and I immediately made a judgement that I would have no parental support.  I heard a students parents speaking only in a language I did not understand and I assumed that her test scores would be low because of language. <--For the record both students proved me wrong. I am not trying to say that I am perfect and I dropped all judgements. I am human and I am trying

Ultimately this book is not a "MATH" book.  The title of the book refers to a tutor student who made the comment "they made us slaves because we were dumb, right, Ms. Summers?"  First of all just imagine being asked that question as a white educator.  How do you respond to that. ?  In the eyes of the colonists African Slaves WERE dumb, they did not speak the language, could not write, and their cultural activities were not the same.  Another student asked another teacher "why you trying to teach me to multiply, Ms. L.? Black people don't multiply; black people just add and subtract.  White people multiply." (pg.14).  Boom.  There it was, the reason I needed to read this book over and over. 

So... Have I enticed you?  Maybe this will...

DO you want to win a copy of this book? Because you totally can!  Here you go, all you have to do is fill out the raffle copter below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Then head on over to Evil Math Wizard for more awesome books that have changed the way your favorite math teacher bloggers teach!

Thanks for playing!


  1. Oh goodness! I am pumped to read this book. If I don't win, I will most likely be purchasing it! I also just did an amazon search for it and the same author has written "Other People's Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom". This is a topic that is super relevant to me since I teach in a school that is 50% Hispanic. Thanks for introducing me to this book! Enjoy your vacation!

  2. I had honestly never heard of this book - and am now intrigued. I have no white (hate that word) kids in my class, so in some ways it's a little bit easier to not see colour/race in my classroom. I think it would be a bit harder/different if I had huge differences in abilities that also matched their backgrounds.

    PS - Pick me, I totally want to win, other generic comment, thanks for the opportunity (:p)

    Learning to be awesome

  3. After reading your post about not allowing a C in your class, I began to think: do I already do that? I guess I do: I tell my students their goal is to get an 80% or higher on quizzes & tests. Then I thought: If they are only trying for that on quizzes & tests, what is making them want to do that on anything else? Sure, I do the formative assessment thing, but I have found that if the child thinks it is only necessary to do that well on a quiz or test, they most likely do not want to try that hard on the other work.
    WOW!! Thanks for the wake up call.
    Although I have never heard of the book before, I will be purchasing (if I don't win).
    Thank you so much.

  4. Never heard of this book but it is going on my must read list! I love the idea of having high expectations for all students.

    The Math Maniac

  5. Interesting text! I am inspired to read it... Thanks so much for sharing!


  6. Wow! I am SOOOO intrigued! Thanks for opening my eyes to a new book to read, Jameson! I'm so on this!!

    Jamie aka MissMathDork!

  7. Your fave book sounds like a definite must read! I've worked in Title One schools for my entire career and still struggle with expectations and 'imagined' deficits of my students.

  8. Man...the title made me uncomfortable--you did a GREAT job explaining the content!

  9. I also teach in an urban school with many of the same issues you wrote about. I was moved from kindergarten to 3rd grade because I DO have high expectations for my students, I BELIEVE they can ALL achieve (I'm also a TESOL endorsed teacher) however because I have never taught this high of a level of math I AM the one struggling. That is why I NEED THIS BOOK AND WOULD LOVE TO WIN IT! AND YES, I WILL READ it many times over...thank you.

  10. I love this title! I would be happy to win a copy!

  11. Jameson,
    I am so glad that you featured this book. I have heard of the book but never read it. You have inspired me to read it and even further to continue to do what is best for children. I love that you were so transparent in this post. This post really spoke to me as our mission as educators is not about us. Thanks again.

    Mr Elementary Math Blog

  12. I read Other People's Children in grad school and it was certainly an eye opener. I would love to read more from Lisa Delpit, especially as it pertains to my subject area. Oh yeah, and thanks for the opportunity! ;)

  13. I need to read this book. Educational inequality is a travesty we shouldn't accept. Thanks for picking this.
    The Research Based Classroom

  14. Never heard of the book. Sounds like an interesting read.

  15. Wow! What a powerful book. We constantly say as educators that "every kid can learn" but do we actually show that message to each student in our class? I'm sure my white guilt will go in overload during this. :)

  16. I love your review of the book! I think that teachers need to have high expectations across all subject areas and for every student! Having high expectations of students shows that you care about them and their learning and students will really respond to that. Thank you for sharing about this book that I will probably look into getting!

  17. My summer PLC was Closing the Achievement Gap (our team focused on closing the gap for our black male students in the lowest 25% of our school). These black males accounted for over half of the referrals issued all year and ranged from profane language to fighting. We discussed many books and even a book study, but this book did not come up. Just from reading your review, I know that I need to read it. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Yet another "to read" .... I like to remember that students will often rise or fall to meet our expectations. The trick is figuring out how to keep the bar high when my students argue that my expectations and time constraints are unreasonable.

  19. Great review of a great book! I am adding it to my Amazon list.

    Swinging for Success
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