Conceptualizing the African American Mathematics Teacher as a Key Figure in the African American Education Historical Narrative
by Lawrence M. Clark, Toya Jones Frank & Julius Davis — 2013
Background/Context: Historians and researchers have documented and explored the work and role of African American teachers in the U.S. educational system, yet there has been limited attention to the specific work, role, and experiences of African American mathematics teachers. To meaningfully and responsibly conceptualize the role of African American mathematics teachers and better understand their work in U.S. schools, analytic approaches are needed to help us understand cases of African American mathematics teachers as representations of a complex and ever-evolving series of intertwined contexts, forces, and events that include critical events along historical timelines (i.e., U.S. educational system, mathematics education, technological innovation and development, African American teaching force).
Purpose/Objective: The purpose of this article is to challenge readers to consider the African American mathematics teacher as a conceptual entity that embodies characteristics, practices, and dispositions that are potentially meaningful for students, particularly African American students, in ways that support students’ capacity to participate and perform within the racialized contexts of mathematics education, the broader schooling experience, and broader society.
Design: Structured as an analytic essay, this article provides a rationale and potential directions of inquiry for historians and researchers open to explorations of relationships between race, mathematics education, teacher identity, and teacher practice.
Conclusions/Recommendations: We make two assertions about the African American mathematics teacher that help to conceptualize his or her role as a theoretical construct. First, the African American mathematics teacher is a boundary spanner with membership in multiple communities—a mathematically proficient and intellectually powerful African American person within a historically disempowered African American community with a history of inaccessibility to and underperformance in mathematics. Second, through various implicit and explicit means and micro-interactions, the African American mathematics teacher has the potential to engage in liberatory mathematics pedagogy, a pedagogy that serves to dismantle racialized hierarchies of mathematics ability. We encourage mathematics education researchers to interrogate, challenge, critique, and build on conceptualizations of the African American mathematics teacher as an entity that represents a unique confluence of experiences, perspectives, dispositions, and knowledge domains critical to the education of students. In doing so, it is our hope that theories of student learning, participation, and performance will more willingly embrace, acknowledge, and incorporate the inescapable dynamics of race, class, student identity, and teacher identity.
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