My Students Get Inequalities

Jose Vilson Resources

I just started reading Linda Darling-Hammond’s The Flat World and Education (which should be called A Professorial Whoop-Ass on Equity) while doing laundry when I got to reflecting on my week. This week, most of my struggles came from trying to understand how my personal actions led to some of the triumphs and failures for my students. Things I felt were happening in some of my students’ lives created roadblocks to the journey of my understanding of them. These things were somewhere in the background, humming at me until others revealed it to me in pieces.

After a visit to my classroom, I asked my fellow teacher to give me feedback on the class. I knew I did well that week, and it showed based on the various tasks I gave to my students. After she gave me some commendations and recommendations, I simply nodded and appreciated the conversation I had with my set of 8th grade math teachers. Usually, our conversations sizzle with math pedagogy and cackles, but today, I decided to share a jewel with my colleagues as the math coach:

“I don’t want to get too deep, but, you know, after all these units, my students know and understand inequalities. They really understand what inequalities are. Now, they have a hard time with the word problems, but they’re pretty good at the other pieces.”


So when some of my students walk in late because they barely slept, because their parents didn’t care enough to give them a solid home, because they can’t see the line between being silly and being misbehaved, then they understand why they’re treated as they are. They see their culture both physically and mentally as deviant since the major society reinforces the majority culture as the one to follow instead of having enough self-confidence to not rely on the ethereal gifts of the present.

Because they can so readily make these type of comparisons, their lack of balance makes inequality a foregone conclusion. Thus, we use symbols that represent “greater than,” “less than,” and, for the more advanced, “not equal.”

Jose, who wants my students to do better with word problems …