This is the first in what will undoubtedly be a series of articles related to this program. In the beginning of June, the public was informed that Jefferson County Board of Education had approved a new math tutoring program named "Black Math Genius" to be used in the summer school program. According to WFMD "Jefferson County Schools’ Cultural Unity and Equity Coordinator, Tanya Dallas-Lewis, said the program is specifically designed to assist black students who need extra help in mathematics." The program also received vocal support and praise from the local NAACP chapter president and several parents and teachers. Initially it seems WFMD reported that the program was expected to start on the 10th of June and would require 2 new positions to be filled.
That was June 2nd. A few days later WFMD posted another article that suggested there was growing discontent within the community over this program. Jefferson County Prosperity's Barbara Fuller took a position against the introduction of the program. She said that opposition was not purely a white phenomenon, and she pointed out that all of our county's children have suffered due to changes in how math is being taught today.
The first time this issue came across my radar was about a week later when I saw the news printed as the headline for the Spirit of Jefferson. It was here where we learned that there was a $63,000 price tag and that a mere 57 students had shown an interest in the program. The article, which was published the day before the program was originally scheduled to start said there would be free training from the program's creator Assata Moore on Thursday [June 10th].
I don't know exactly how it happened yet, but somewhere between June 9th and the 14th the program roll-out was postponed pending further discussion with the community. The school board has regular meetings with public comment, and on June 14th they received several public comments from parents and educators that were upset about the program being shelved. There was only one person that attended virtually who publicly opposed. He was cut short because it was determined he went off topic. I actually couldn't understand everything he was saying so I can't be sure until I can listen again more carefully, but what I did hear seemed to be on topic albeit maybe not as articulate as they would have liked.
When it was discovered that the program would be put on hold, Assata Moore and a group called Urban Intellectuals went live on Facebook to present arguments in favor of our community adopting the Black Math Genius program they are selling. In the live event Freddie Taylor made a claim that our student population was over 90% black while requesting his followers from all over the country contact the school board in our county to demand that they move forward with the program. This underhanded move was called out quickly by one member of the Board of Education. Donna Joy was quoted saying, “Whoever is responsible for marketing [the Black Math Genius] program is using unscrupulous tactics that I, as a board member, do not condone" in an article in the Spirit of Jefferson.
Defenders of the program use a couple of common arguments. The one I seem to see or hear the most is that the program is not segregated and anyone is welcome to sign their kids up to participate. Another one that I see fairly regularly is that our current system is failing black kids, and this program is simply a different approach to teach them in a language they understand. I can see the validity of both of these arguments, and generally speaking I do think that there needs to be some improvement in how we teach children. I do not however think that saying a program is open to everyone is the same thing as building a program that feels open to everyone. Another thing I hear being done regularly is comparing a black math program to English as a second language (ESL). I don't quite understand how someone could make this argument honestly. ESL classes are secondary language courses, similar in nature to a foreign language course with the added benefit of being useful to the student immediately.
I found the program online for $299, and reading over the marketing material left me with a few questions. The content is broken down in to several units with smaller chapters. Some of the content looks very promising as a way to get kids to engage with math. I see that they plan to teach the students a bit of programming which is great. Programming will help kids to see a tangible purpose for mathematics which is something that was lacking when I was in school with the exception of Business Math. As I understand it, they want to get back to teaching kids to memorize the multiplication table which I think is probably a good idea instead of teaching them to rely on a calculator. But some of the titles appear to be rooted in historical claims rather than in mathematics directly. One title that really stood out was one of the later units called "Equal and Opposite" which is clearly a play on "Separate but Equal" and seems out of place in a purely mathematical course. The program has been associated with critical race theory by some of the local community members, and on it's surface it certainly seems that way. Without purchasing the program it seems like there is no real way of knowing. I have plans to do that, but it isn't currently financially feasible so it will have to wait. For now I am going to end this here because we're nearing 1000 words already and I don't want to take up all of your time. In the next article, I'll give some attention to specific arguments for and against this program.