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Why is TMC So white? One idea for change…let’s invite the neighbors

July 30, 2017
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Of the 186 TMC attendees, 166 of them (86%) were white, which I think was a deep cause of concern for nearly everyone at TMC. One other surprising fact is that Atlanta, a very diverse (if still fairly segregated) city, wasn’t especially well represented at TMC—we had nearly as many people from Massachusetts at TMC as from the Atlanta area.

200 is pretty close to a hard size cap for TMC. Grow much bigger, and it will be next to impossible to find institutions willing to host the conference for free. But, at least at this TMC, there’s only one place, the cafeteria that housed all of the keynotes, that is significantly size constrained and couldn’t accommodate a few more people. All of the other smaller sessions were held in classrooms that could easily accommodate 5, 10 or even 20 more people. At the same time, many of the sessions were about more than just teaching math; a bunch are simply about doing math together. And I would classify sessions like Ilana, Christopher and Lara’s session as one of these that was more about exploring the joy of learning math in non school contexts.

This gets me thinking, why are we limiting this fun to just math teachers? Physics teachers like me are already sneaking in, but I’m thinking we might really make some progress on the diversity front by specifically devoting an afternoon to outreach—running sessions specifically designed to share a joy in math (I’m thinking of Jonathan Calydon’s incredible sidewalk chalk project. What if we did this at TMC, and what if we invited the surrounding community to participate?

Expanding TMC in this way would allow us to get a number of people into TMC and have them experience a taste of the community and feel the infectious joy for math that is so pervasive during this conference, and at the same time, it would allow the rest of the conference to stay small, close knit, and not overly tax the facilities by trying to squeeze 400 people into a cafeteria meant for only half that number.

Creating a TMC outreach afternoon will allow math teachers in the area to give TMC a try for an afternoon without having to commit multiple days. If we were to reach out to all the colleges in the area, particularly historically black colleges and colleges that do a good job of serving 1st generation students, we might not only bring some diversity to TMC, we would also be reaching a number of pre-service and potential math teachers who will be the ones who that diversify math education after we are all retired. I think we could extend this even further—why not reach out to students at area schools? After 2 or 3 days of awesome math learning, I’m itching to try out some of what I’ve learned on some real live students. This outreach would be a bit effort—the cities that host TMCs are huge, and it’s a lot to ask the host institution to be responsible for getting the word out to all the math teachers in the city, particularly when we think about how many different types of schools there are. Maybe there should be a TMC sub committee completely devoted to home site outreach.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2017 8:51 am

    That 86% figure is interesting. For comparison, in TMC14 I surveyed everyone and analyzed some of the data. That summer over 90% of attendants were white. I don’t know if this is significant — probably not, honestly, but I wonder if anyone took survey data in 2015 and 2016?

    View at

    These ideas are fascinating and they’ve got me thinking. It would be tough to pull these ideas off, I think, especially in the context of TMC. But I think you’re right that there needs to be more community outreach. I wonder if Christopher, Lani and Kent could teach us how to run little Math on a Sticks regionally. Maybe, in the future, the summer will feature both several TMCs and MoASs?

    Thanks again for all the blogging!

    (By the way, you know Lockhart has a new book coming out? I remember having a lot of fun in the Measurement reading group, way back when.)

    • August 1, 2017 1:49 pm

      I’m dying for Math on a Stick in a Box and would love to see it at my daughter’s school, or even as an activity one afternoon or weekend at my school. I don’t know why we couldn’t have TMC coincide with an evening story slam about math and invite locals to join, or a Math on a Stick even on the final Sunday afternoon.

      I didn’t know Paul has a new book coming out—I’ll keep my eye out for it. And I do remember our Measurement reading group—I wish I’d stuck with it. It’s such a rich book.

  2. July 30, 2017 11:05 pm

    What is the fraction of math teachers nationwide who are white? Is the problem with TMC or with math teaching?

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