Message from NCSM President, Paul Gray


Holding Ourselves Accountable


In spite of what you might read on Facebook, we do, in fact, have prayer in schools and recite the Pledge of Allegiance on the daily. When I was a student in Texas public schools back in 19-something, we stood up every day at the beginning of the announcements and in our daily ritual, placed our right hands over our hearts, looked at the flag, and began, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” Every day. In fact, current Texas law requires students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, the Pledge to the Texas flag (“Honor to the Texas flag. I pledge allegiance to thee, one state under God, one and indivisible.”), and a moment of silence. Every day.


This legally-required ritual always smelled a little like indoctrination to me. And the part about “liberty and justice for all,” which I knew firsthand as a gay American was not something that applied to me, sometimes stuck in my throat on its way out.


A few years later, I’m a lot older and hopefully a little wiser. And I now understand that “with liberty and justice for all” is a goal. It’s our vision as a nation that all Americans will have liberty and justice. That’s part of the promise of our country. And it’s part of the reason I get goose bumps when I hear the Star Spangled Banner.


Molly Ivins once said:


The only problem was, the founders left a lot of people out of the Constitution. They left out poor people and black people and female people. It is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America. And it still goes on today.


Her words resonate with my experience with the Pledge of Allegiance. And remind me that many other Americans had the same cognitive dissonance that I did. Black Americans. Hispanic Americans. Asian Americans. Jewish Americans. Americans with different abilities. Transgender Americans.


Ivins’s words could also be used to frame how we think about equity in our schools. Our school systems were created in the late 1800s after Reconstruction. In 1892, the Committee of Ten established guidelines for U.S. high schools to follow as a way to standardize (primarily white male) students’ learning experiences before they made it to university. We follow a lot of these structures today, including earning high school “credits” for courses and having students study two years of algebra and one year of geometry before they get to university.


In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered schools to be desegrated in Brown v. Board. This decision overturned the “separate but equal” doctrine from the Plessy v. Ferguson decision that provided the foundation for Jim Crow laws. At this time, high schools were designed to prepare white students for the workforce, college, or university. After 1954, school leaders found themselves suddenly needing to educate Black and brown students and immersed them in schools that were designed to benefit white students. More court decisions later and school leaders found themselves having to equally educate female students, poor students, students whose first language isn’t English, and students with disabilities.


As we prepare for a new school year, let us recommit to making powerful mathematics teaching and learning accessible to all students. It is insufficient to merely allow all students to enroll in courses. We have a professional obligation to make sure that each and every one of our students is prepared for success once they walk through the doors, we open for them. That means we may need to do a few things differently. Are we providing all students the opportunity to engage with meaningful, on-grade-level mathematics? Are we providing all teachers with the tools, resources, and professional learning they need to meet students where they are and get them closer to where they need to be? Are we equipping our school leaders with information they need to advocate for our teachers and students? How are we holding ourselves accountable for making good on the promise of public education for all of our students?


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



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