Multiplication is for White People

Is it okay to even say that statement?!  Bear with me.  I'm going to unpack it with you.

My dear friend Jameson, over at Lessons with Coffee, has challenged and inspired me (and others) to get uncomfortable with who we are and look at what is really going on in our world!  It's a crazy place out there and it's our responsibility to do what we can to make it a little less crazy.

Feeling uncomfortable yet?  I am.

This is me.

I am white.

I am female.

I come from a family that could afford private school education.

I have never gone hungry.

I have never been cold.

I've never been arrested, never accused of doing something because I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, never been confused for someone else simply because of the colour of my skin.

I have never wanted for anything - physical, emotional, or otherwise.

I don't say all this to rub it in your face, I say it because it's my truth.  I won't apologise for it, but I also won't use it to hide behind either.  At least that is my aim.

So my girl J has a few questions to think about.  I'm going to do my best to work through them and answer to the best of my ability.


"Imagine a little black boy, like millions around the country, and every day after school he goes to the community center to shoot hoops. The first time he was really bad, didn’t make a single shot. Still, he goes back the very next day. The following week he made a few shots. After a few months of daily attempts, some days he makes a few more than others, but most he makes just a few total. After a year or so, he makes more shots than he misses. Despite week after week of relative failure, he continued to try, and eventually he found success."
Disclaimer - We don't have "African-American" people in New Zealand obviously.  So for my reflections I will talk about my Maori students.  For all intents and purposes the situation is the same.

Easy Question

Why did the boy become better?
Easy Answer?  Because he practiced.  Simple.

Harder Questions

Why in the face of failure does the boy come back day after day, week after week, month after month to improve his shooting abilities? — What is it about basketball that makes him so willing to work so hard to put in the long-term commitment necessary for success?
Harder Answer?  No one is pressuring him.  He likes it.   He has role models that play too - I'm thinking big high profile role models from his own culture.  People that he admires from popular culture or the media are good at Basketball, and so he wants that too.  

Thought Provoking Question

How do these elements relate to school? Why don’t our basketball boys persevere in the classroom? Why do they give up as soon as they encounter any academic difficulty?  If we want students who engage in the practice necessary to achieve, if we want students who persist in the face of failure, if we want students who want to come to school, then what do we need to do to make school more like basketball?

When so much of our job as teachers is attacked by the media is it any wonder that our students - of any culture - don't trust us?  Putting that aside, and looking at the students in my class this year, I think of one kid in particular.  She has struggled with academics her whole life, albeit short.  The role models she looks up to are sports people, musicians, and actors.  Those are the things she excels at, because she sees people that look like her who are good at those things.  I've seen her discouraged, down, and frustrated on several occasions.  What more can I do than continuing to encourage her, modelling good learning, and keep it fun.  Basketball is after all a game.  Games are fun.  Fun is good.  

Let's make learning fun.  

I'm not sure that I have fully comprehended the questions, but there is always has to be a starting point to each and every discussion that we have.

Go.  Join.  Be challenged.  Get uncomfortable.  Most importantly - Read the book "Mulitplication is for White People". 

1 comment

  1. This is the most astonishing thing I have ever come across.


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