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the wealth our students bring

I find TED talks slightly annoying, bastions of self-satisfied, white (how many people of color do you notice in the audience?), upper-middle class intellectualism (I’m using the term intellectualism as a form of oppression practiced on those deemed uneducated, unthinking, and uninterested in “Ideas”).

Still, there are some good talks in the series. If you haven’t seen the one entitled “Do schools kill creativity?“, by Sir Ken Robinson, then you should, especially if you’re a teacher. One of my favorite bits in the talk is his story about a now-famous dancer, who as a fidgety, irresponsible girl was taken to the doctor to see what was wrong. The doctor reputedly said to the mother, “Your daughter’s not sick; she’s a dancer.” That doctor recognized the talent and ability in that child and helped bring it out, if only by referring her to the right place. The more we, as teachers, can do that, instead of forcing all our students into the same boxes, the more we will be happy as teachers, the more our students will succeed, and the more our society will benefit from the wealth of contributions we all have to bring.

But there’s another piece to this issue. The answer is not just to say that all poor students are studying the wrong thing. I’ve seen too many math students, who appear destined to fail, turn their difficulties into success to think that all struggling students should be referred to another field of study. Rather, I see it as my job to help my students use the skills and abilities and experiences they bring to the classroom to become successful math students. When we do that, we are achieving the highest goals of democratic education by fostering  people that bring their whole selves to the collective issues we face. Considering the complexity of the problems in the global society, we need all the help we can get.

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