Conversations about bias and discrimination, especially in the form of racism, have taken a national stage recently. It’s hard to turn on the news without hearing differing opinions about race and racism. This leaves many adult learners and adult educators wondering how to navigate the subject.
Adult educators work with learners from different races, ethnicities, religions, genders, and more. Often, educators become very close with their students, and it’s important to maintain a sense of understanding and sensitivity to build the kind of relationship that is necessary to help students reach their educational goals.
The great news is that math literacy isn’t just something that can help students and educators calculate math problems or obtain a high school equivalency degree, it may also be a great skill to have when overcoming racial bias.
In the video below, math teacher Max Ray argues that the concepts behind thinking through math and number problems can help students think through, challenge, and ultimately overcome racial bias.
Ray says that when he makes a mistake in math, he slows downs, checks his work, understands the concepts, and practices. This is also how he examines and corrects his “racism mistakes.” He then goes on to identify two mathematical concepts that he feels will undo racism—proportional reasoning and statistical literacy.
When confronted with facts about groups of people, proportional and statistical reasoning can help people think through the data they are being provided with. It challenges them to go beyond the message they are being conditioned to accept and ask questions such as “Does this anecdote represent actual data?” or “Is this outcome disproportionate?” Thinking about bias in this way starts to build mathematical reasoning into social issues, and will help students form what Ray calls “a mathematical smog filter.”
I would argue that the concepts Ray introduces aren’t limited to racial bias, but can be applied to many forms of bias. They may be a great way to help students gain math and statistical literacy skills while also giving them the tools to think through and articulate their thoughts in the current national climate.
Watch Ray’s video below. Then let us know if you agree or disagree with Ray in the comments.