I try to read about experiences that are not mine, like being an African-American intellectual who grew up in Baltimore. Ta-Nehisi Coates has regularly shook my pre-conceived notions about what really is true in America and the world. Here’s a quote Ta-Nehisi got from Yoni Applebaum.
I was reading a new memoir the other day, by a Harvard graduate who went to work as a prison librarian. Much of the book is an account of his acculturation. He discovered that his robes and spell books, so to speak, were a lot less useful than plate and a broad-sword. That he couldn’t afford to be seen as a punk. He was perfectly equipped for a comfortable, upper-middle-class life—and wholly unprepared for his new environment.
The conversation was about how culture is largely a set of practices for helping a person succeed in a certain environment. In a tough neighborhood, you act tough and never apologize. In a wealthy and secure environment, you speak politely all the time. Use a “best-practice” from one neighborhood in another, and you’ve hindered your success.
Then I go to read about teaching math at Bree Pickford-Murray’s blog. She’s got a post about how she was at a math teacher conference and saw a public school teacher from a crowded tough neighborhood speak dismissively and rudely to a presenter (“We can’t talk. You’ve lost all credibility!”) from a rich New England private school, where the class size is about ten kids, and they sit around a single table, not in rows of desks. Bree’s upset with the public school teacher. Her commenter Andrew Stadel says
“Furthermore, how dare she not be inspired? How dare she not have an open mindset to someone presenting something that could be freakin’ amazing. How dare she rob her students of an opportunity to experience some amazing mathematical experience. Who’s lost credibility now?”
Andrew makes a good point that kids in a public school need exposure to the deeper math that often only gets taught at prep schools. But I wish Andrew and Bree would be more empathetic for the people at the bottom of all this inequality in America.