Visiting professor mixes math, issues

Bob Galuski, Editor-in-chief

A mathematics professor at the University of Illinois knows education is a political world, but never has it been in a moment like it is now.

Rochelle Gutiérrez will be presenting “Why ‘Getting Real’ Requires Being ‘Radical’ in High Stakes Education” at 4:10 p.m. Friday in Room 2231 of Old Main. Refreshments will be served at 3:40 p.m.

Gutiérrez, who has been a professor for 18 years, said teachers do not realize it is not enough to teach mathematics well, or to know their students are not all on the same level playing field, but it requires negotiating the politics of teaching.

And when it comes to the politics, there is a new movement in the realm of mathematics, she said.

She said when it comes to education reform, and the Common Core learning skills now needed in the classrooms, it changes the discussion from a state-level to a national one.

Using the example of Pearson Education Books, which sold textbooks to high rate states such as California, she said now because it has national-based standards, Pearson expanded to testing.

“We’ve never had a moment like this when for-profit organizations have almost a monopoly on this,” Gutiérrez said.

Because of the expansion, companies like Pearson now have credentials to have teachers get confirmed by them, which means certification can go through Pearson.

Gutiérrez said her presentation will also help give examples of how teachers can use what she calls “creative subordination” to help negotiate the new movement.

While historically there have always been three areas of knowledge for teachers, which includes content, or how well the teacher knows the material; pedagogical, or how teachers can teach students in different styles, or how to help them through difficult areas; and finally, student knowledge, which is how to work with particular students and their learning needs.

However, because of this new movement, Gutiérrez said there is a fourth area: political knowledge.

“You can use creative subordination to learn how to interpret and bend the rules so you can be an advocate,” she said.

When it comes to that, the creative subordination falls into a number of different examples she will be presenting Friday.

However, one way was by looking at whether the school the teacher at is reliant on test scores. Then the mode of teaching changes. The teacher can carve out time for their students to practice what would be on the test, or they can use creative subordination and figure out a different way.

Gutiérrez suggests finding a way to teach students to empathetic to others’ learning skills.

“If the answer is D, tell them to figure out how others could have come up with A, B or C,” she said.

She also said empathy is often a trait missing from the world of mathematics.

“People don’t realize we’re also identity workers,” she said.

Gutiérrez said there is a way people feel about themselves because of mathematics.

“If you’re bad at poetry, you probably won’t go through life feeling bad because you’re bad at poetry,” she said. “But mathematics isn’t like poetry.”

She said people who excel in math are often seen as smarter, and they benefit from that perception; so they do not feel a need to change the status quo.

Gutiérrez likened this feeling to the idea of race in America.

“Society is set up where whiteness is a norm,” she said. Therefore, she said, those who benefit see no reason to change the standard. She also said things like language in America also comes from that same ideology.

“English is the main way people think here,” she said. “But they don’t realize in a lot of different countries the people there speak at least two languages.”

The presentation is based off of a five-year NSF grant, which allowed Gutiérrez to speak with mathematics majors, starting with the most basic question: “What is math?”

She said teachers need to focus on a deeper, richer form of mathematics and learn social justices through mathematics, and there they can deconstruct how it is presented in the school system.

However, Gutiérrez isn’t saying her presentation is the real way to think. She just wants people to be exposed to all areas to make an informed decision.

“You need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and say ‘I’m doing what I set out to do,’” she said.

Bob Galuski can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].