Message from NCSM President, Paul Gray


Equity Journeys


When I began teaching, I didn’t even know that I should be thinking about equity. I knew it was in the NCTM principles and standards documents and when Principals and Standards for School Mathematics hit the streets in 2000, I read through the Equity Principle. It sounded good to me. I was teaching at a majority-Black high school and knew that my students had different academic and lived experiences than I did. But as a highly sheltered suburban white male, I had no idea what to do about it. I knew it was important to support my kids (yes, I am the teacher who still refers to students as “my kids”).


I didn’t know it in the late 1990s, but I was in the early stages of my personal equity journey as an educator. I don’t know who created the idea of an equity journey, but I learned about it from one of my math heroes, NCSM Past President John Staley. Dr. Staley was NCSM President when I joined the NCSM Board of Directors in 2016 and he invested a lot of time with our board colleagues getting us to think about how we, as individuals, incorporate equity into our own work and the work of NCSM.


It was about this time that I began to be more conscious of my own personal equity journey.


Every educator in the U.S. and Canada lives an equity journey. Many of us do it with blinders on, convincing ourselves that we “don’t see color” and deluding ourselves into believing that every child has the opportunity to succeed if they only work hard enough. Many of us know that equity is important and we have to do things differently if we are going to get closer to our goal of equitable learning outcomes for each and every child.


We are all in different places in our personal equity journeys. Becoming NCSM President catapulted me forward in my personal equity journey. I grew up in Texas in a lower to middle class white culture. A lot of the way we do things, like the expressions we say, how redlining influenced where different groups of people historically and currently live, our school district boundaries and school attendance zones, and the way we constructed highways through certain neighborhoods, are anchored in racism and white supremacy.


None of this is unique to the South. Every part of the U.S. and Canada has been touched by the legacy of white supremacy throughout our history. The last few years, I have spent a lot of time in my personal equity journey learning how to identify that influence and begin work to dismantle it.


Come to find out, our professional organizations are on equity journeys as well. NCSM’s equity journey has several key milestones. In 2016, NCSM and TODOS adopted an official position emphasizing the importance of teaching mathematics through a social justice lens. In 2019, NCSM adopted a position that tracking is a practice that harms children and must be ceased immediately. Position statements are one way that a professional organization publicly demonstrates where they are in their organizational equity journeys.


You can also tell where an organization is in its equity journey by examining the diversity and inclusion efforts of its leadership. Board members are the literal faces of an organization. Featured speakers at a conference are the voices who will be showcased and heard at professional learning sponsored by these organizations.  


Not all diversity is visible. When you look at the pictures of people on a website or in a program, you will see diversity based on melanin or gender presentation. What you will not see is LGBTQ+ diversity, gender identity, linguistic diversity, or diversity of people living with disabilities. You also do not see geographic and demographic diversity. When evaluating where an organization is in its equity journey, it’s important to keep this and other visible and invisible diversity markers in mind.


If you examine the sets of featured speakers from recent NCSM and NCTM conferences, you will notice a broad range of views and voices being showcased in the programs. This representation is intentional – it didn’t just happen. Organizational leadership and working committees made a commitment to ourselves and to our field that we would seek out and invite established and emerging voices and perspectives from a variety of lived experiences. We do this with conference programs, board of directors elections, and working committee participation. It’s all part of our organizations’ equity journeys.


Have we come a long way in the last 10 years? I believe we have.


Do we have much work remaining? You bet your bippy we do.


I rely heavily on my NCSM board colleagues, fellow leaders of other organizations, NCSM members, and mathematics educators across the continent to keep pushing my thinking. I need that push to keep me moving in my own personal equity journey and to help lead NCSM’s organizational equity journey.


Math leaders need that push, too. We are stronger when we are together and we all need one another to push us forward in our own equity journeys and hold one another accountable. An equity journey isn’t a marathon or even a march. Often, it feels more like we are dancing a cha cha, taking a few steps forward and then a step back. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice. And in the big picture, we are moving forward.


Y’all be careful. We’ll touch base again in September!



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