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My STEM Education journey featuring SACNAS
Presented by Amy Beth Prager
Come hear Amy Beth Prager share research and teaching ideas related to diversity and inclusion in STEM. Amy will describe the work she had done with organizations that promote diversity and inclusion, including SACNAS (Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in STEM).
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Coming Up on 12/14
Beast Academy Playground: Math Games and Crafts to Foster Curiosity and Build Problem-Solving Skills
Presented by Mark Hendrickson
Think of games you loved to play as a kid: Tic-Tac-Toe, Crazy Eights, Connect Four, Tetris. Many of these involve strategic thinking and problem-solving. When we give students opportunities to play and be creative, they’ll ask genuine questions, try new things, fail, and try again! Let’s bring more math games and activities into the classroom to foster these same qualities, while at the same time practicing basic skills. In this session we’ll explore a collection of games, crafts, magic tricks, optical illusions, and more that can be used to supplement math instruction in the elementary and middle school classrooms.
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Global Math Department Honors Indigenous Mathematicians: Dr. Belin Tsinnajinnie
By: Sara Rezvi (@arsinoepi)
This month’s contribution to GMD seeks to learn from the thoughtful insights of Dr. Belin Tsinnajinnie (@LoboWithACause
Dr. Tsinnajinnie (Navajo/Filipinx) is the Associate Professor and Co-Chair of Mathematics at Santa Fe Community College and lives with his family on the unceded territories of the Pueblo peoples – what is commonly known as New Mexico.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Tsinnajinnie in honor of Native American Heritage Month. This piece offers some highlights of our conversation and the many resources Dr. Tsinnajinnie generously shared for the Global Math Department community.
Could you share a little bit about your background and your mathematical journey?
|I started off doing math, knowing that I would be part of an underrepresented group in mathematics. And at first that excited me and that was kind of into the status of being one of the only Native Indigenous peoples in mathematics. But that kind of shifted and changed as I went along.
So I made a switch to math education. Because I saw education as a way of serving my communities, and is kind of a calling that I felt came from our family. Both of my parents are teachers and educators, my grandparents. So my parents, me and my sisters have been involved in education. So not only that, but I have a better opportunity to find positions here in New Mexico or and be able to live and raise a family in our community. So that’s what I did. I was fortunate enough that my advisor, Dr. Marta Civil, really engaged in looking at equity and social justice, math and math education. So I was able to use Dr. Seville as an advisor and got engaged in math research that looked at the relationships between culture, mathematics and power. And so it is exciting because I was able to use my background and my experiences, my lived experiences within the work that I did, the work that I do, and work today and continuing to do. And that fits in with my positions at a Tribal College Institute of American Indian Arts…so, I am trying to see how I can align those experiences and perspectives with the missions of serving the community through tribal colleges and community colleges.
When I was doing my dissertation. I came in with the mindset that I was wondering when I was looking at the voices and stories from Indigenous and Latinx learners and their parents. [In particular], I was wondering if I knew the history of my own ancestors who went to boarding schools in those histories. I was wondering if that still had an impact on our current system, and listening to their voices provided evidence that those same forces of assimilation in discounting parents and their perspectives are still ongoing today.
I know Dr. Danny Martin’s work resonates with me because he is one of those connectors who has always been there. And, you know, the boarding school era still has gone and extended into the late 1900s. Many of those policies and practices in some way were shut down with the Meriam Report in the early 1900s, but the mindset and practices were carried over and the mindset didn’t really stop.
And I bring in work on the histories of identity and Indigenous education, how those practices weren’t there for the sake of being racist. Those practices were there to colonize minds to gain access to labor and resources. And very intently, those same things are still going on today. And that’s what Danny Martin talks about as well – that all those projects disguised as equity and equality for Black learners are still all under the guise of serving nationalistic efforts for labor and access to resources and access to Black and Indigenous minds.
What is something that is currently bringing you joy – within the realm of mathematics or outside of it (or maybe that distinction doesn’t exist)?
|I think I’ve been fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to work from home and be spending more time with my family. And I can. And early on with the pandemic. That’s how we kind of tried to reframe things as a chance to step back and re-examine what’s important in the relationships that are most important to us. That’s not to say that it has been easy to maintain and sustain that throughout all of our demands. But I’m still appreciative that each day that I get to spend time with my favorite coworkers.
Your profile states that you identify as Diné and Filipino. How has your heritage and/or cultural background shaped your journey and your worldview on mathematics?
|This question drove my whole dissertation quite honestly [and my thesis revolved around this question]:
“How can we use identity to better understand the various sociocultural and sociopolitical influences on the mathematical learning experiences of Native American and Latinx youth?”
I can speak to something mathematical like how blood quantum is something that’s, like mathematized and quantified and is an attempt from colonizers to mathematize, our identities in those times reduce the extent to which we identify with the group.
A shorter answer to that question – it’s an indication of how we value quantification and measurement, and, in turn mathematics, because we value mathematics as an objective way of measuring things, but that’s an example of things that have no business being measured in those ways.
And, by extension, we think about the how measurement is so prevalent in education systems, whether it’s grades, whether it’s researching grant proposals, and how we quantify or attempt to quantify success and achievement in our education systems, and how in there are many ways that we can extend that to other situations where math is so valued as objective and neutral that we try to quantify everything that I can measure and compare things that quote unquote, objectively and that, that the need to challenge that is, is inherent, and is so important in in its impact on how we engage in value or identities in our backgrounds and our knowledge and experiences. Math is (supposedly) neutral and object free. But we still see disparities, we still see unequal outcomes. If it’s all that, then what are you saying about us? What are you saying about marginalized communities? If we think it’s balanced and fair for everyone? Are you really seeing what you think you’re seeing?
In the past month, a viral racist video* emerged of a white woman math teacher appropriating Indigenous culture in a mathematics classroom to teach trigonometry. If you are comfortable responding, could you offer insight on how you think about ideas of Indigenous futurity and sovereignty? In your view, what would a mathematics classroom space look like that served, honored, and loved Indigenous and Black youth?
|I’m not surprised. I’m not surprised that it’s prevalent. I’m not surprised that it’s there.
There’s a scarcity of research and scholarship in Indigenous math education. With those google searches comes all those essentializing reducing and stereotypes of Native Indigenous culture.
What we have to filter through when we’re searching for the good stuff is all that appropriation and all that essentializing of Native cultures, and we’re doing that. And even though that video made a lot of headlines, there are bigger issues and concerns that come out of what it means to engage in culturally responsive and culturally sustaining mathematics for Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities that are marginalized communities.
To what extent do we just look at what is culturally relevant? Does it have to be things that we dress up, but is it still mainstream mathematics with a teepee on top of it? Is that what we’re aiming for?
When I think about Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez’s work, because she talks about rehumanizing mathematics when we’ve always been doing mathematics, along with Dr. Martin – we’ve [Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people] have always been engaging mathematics in humanized ways. And that was disrupted with schooling, colonization, and assimilation. So how do we go back to recognizing and understanding that and so there’s an importance in understanding our histories and seeing the experiences and cultures of our histories? As mathematics, but at the same time, if we want to do math and we love math as is, we should be able to do the math that makes us happy. And without ever feeling the sense that we have to limit or reduce our identities in order to do mathematics. And so that’s part of the envisioning is that if we like the mathematics that we call mathematics, in dominant culture and in universities in schools that if we want to engage in that we should have the opportunity to do so while feeling our whole selves.
We want to have that vision that people have for us that math is accessible for all. But on top of that, if we’re gonna think about the future of math for Black and Indigenous communities and scholars, is to not frame mathematics as a usefulness or to have it as job-oriented, but to rethink the roles of mathematics in our communities and for liberation. And sustaining our cultures in our communities. And what does that look like? And for that we need to go outside of our scope of mathematics and think about the movements and soft movements that our peoples are involved in? What roles does math can map to be a part of that? In what ways is it not even suitable? And is it even relevant? There’s lots of thinking about that. And, I appreciate Dr. Piper Harron on Twitter thinking about those things out loud.
In addition to the thoughtful insights offered above by Dr. Tsinnajinnie, he also provided resources to continue learning about the important contributions of Indigenous mathematicians to not only the field itself but the communities of people who shape this work beyond the current epistemologies of Western learning and knowledge.
- Hear more from Dr. Tsinnajinnie by watching this interview: MEET a Mathematician!
- Bookmark and highlight Indigenous Mathematicians in your classroom.
- Subscribe to the Mathematically Uncensored podcast, which highlights the contributions of Latinx and Hispanic mathematical scholarship, hosted by Dr. Pamela Harris and her team.
Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of Braiding Sweetgrass, writes the following: “I dream of a world guided by a lens of stories rooted in the revelations of science and framed with an Indigenous worldview – stories in which matter and spirit are both given voice.” In reflecting on this interview, I am not only inspired by Dr. Tsinnajinnie’s ability to connect past, present, and future histories from a socio-political mathematical lens but am also reflecting on my own identity as a settler-immigrant, a Pakistani-American, who currently lives on unceded territories of the Three Fires Confederacy. In particular, I see my own doctoral work as part of a greater narrative forming around the purpose, place, and role of mathematics that centers the needs of BIPOC people versus that of larger colonial projects in educational settings.
Some further questions to ponder:
- As non-Indigenous mathematics educators, what are some highlights you, as the reader, are reflecting upon?
- If we recognize that educational institutions have structurally ensured limited understandings of Indigenous people and their scholarship, what is our collective responsibility to disrupt these narratives?
- How should mathematicians and math educators openly discuss the realities of racism in mathematics (and beyond) when it comes to the erasure of Indigenous knowledge in these spaces?
- What internal work and self-interrogation needs to be done as an ongoing conversation with the self – a dialogue that is not meant to shame or belittle, but to approach with curiosity, wonder, and emotional strength?
These questions are meant to be seeds, ones we might share and plant together as a means to begin germinating worlds where Indigenous and Black mathematical brilliance is seen, embodied, respected, honored, and heard.
Thank you for your words and insights, Dr. Tsinnajinnie and this welcome contribution to the Global Math Department.
In resistance. In strength. In love.
~ Sara Rezvi
* The video in question is not linked but does exist on the internet. Prior to this publication, the writer and the rest of the GMD staff went through extensive conversation about what it means to write about harm without reproducing it and whether or not if that is even possible. To the extent that we can avoid reproducing harm, as a newsletter, we have chosen not to link to the video directly. We thank you for your understanding.