An Open Letter to the Seattle School Board

Last night, I sent off a letter to the Seattle School Board in support of Tracy Castro-Gill, the head of Seattle’s Ethnic Studies Program Manager, who was recently removed from her position. (Read more about the situation on Tracy’s blog.) I am extremely grateful for the work that Tracy and the Ethnics Studies Advisory Group have done. I wrote about my first attempts to use their guidance on my blog. (October 17, 2019: The Story of Fibonacci, and the Math Ethnic Studies Framework) I think it’s in everyone’s best interest that this work continue.

My letter is below. Like me, it’s not perfect. (At all.) But it’s an impassioned plea to honor this work. It’s a call to support it.

If you’ve been influenced by this work, I urge you to write, too. The contact information is on Tracy’s blog.


[introducing myself and my position]. I am writing to express gratitude towards Tracy Castro-Gill and her Ethnic Studies team, as well as dismay that the future of the work is currently in danger.

I first heard about Seattle Public Schools’ K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework (draft from August 20, 2019) in October 2019, via twitter. Something that I happened to click on, casually, turned out to be transformative.
The length of the document belies its power. Each reading of it — and I’ve read it several times — takes me deeper. I documented my early experiences with this in a blog post:

“It’s not often a SWABAT statement takes my breath away. ‘SWBAT analyze the ways ancient mathematical knowledge has been appropriated by Western culture.’

Like a punch to the gut.”

From there, I started to build a lesson. I began with the work of Fibonacci, a 12th century mathematician who learned about Hindu-Arabic numerals from North African merchants in Bejaïa, Algeria, and I shared this with third graders through a picture book. This lesson wasn’t perfect. It was a start. It got students talking about race, and origin of ideas. It started to chip away at the veneer of colonialism that coats everything we do. And the seed for the lesson? The seed was planted by the Ethnic Studies Framework out of your school district, more than 3000 miles away.

The framework is more than inspirational: it is aspirational. I have poured over it several times, and there are questions I do not know how to answer yet. This document reminds me of all the work that I, myself, need to do. This framework poses a challenge to me, and all teachers who read it. I want to elevate the experience of students of color. I want them to see themselves as mathematicians, and that their brilliance is rooted in their ancestry and not in spite of it. I want all students — especially my white students — to question how power and oppression play out in our country, and recognize the role that mathematics can play in dismantling some of these systems. I want to help students aspire to a better country and a better world. The ideas and questions presented in the ethnic studies framework are integral to the math classroom.

I still have so much I need to learn, both for myself as a citizen and myself as a facilitator of important work in the mathematics classroom. I was hoping to continue to learn this from Tracy Castro-Gill and the volunteer Ethnic Studies Advisory Group (including Norman Alston and Shraddha Shirude), even from a distance. Their work is unparalleled on the national scene.

I know we need this work in Boston, just like you need it in Seattle. I hope that it is able to continue with bold leadership like Tracy’s.

Thank you.

Warm regards,

Jenna Laib

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