The story of a math whiz, her teacher, the garbage dump and a burro

Please take the time to read and share this beautiful article by Joshua Davis about a courageous, thoughtful teacher who tossed the prescribed national curriculum out the window, focused on student-centered learning, and uncovered a math genius amongst a group of student who literally and figuratively live next to a garbage dump in Mexico. And no, he didn’t just focus on that one kid. Everyone did well. And with no advanced educational technologies.

The story speaks to the need to give teachers like Sergio Juarez Correa freedom and licence to be creative and experimental in their classroom. It prompts us at Science Club for Girls to reflect on how to develop training that encourages this instead of inadvertently replicating prescriptive and restrictive styles as we plan to grow and expand. How do we best build confidence and nurture the potential of our mentors so they become great facilitators of learning in short order?

The story speaks to the hunger and capacity for learning that each child has–as we have all seen–when the right environment is created–as we strive to do. It encourages us to examine our adultism, as a reminder that we need to meet kids where they are, to not pre-“label” them as deficient because of their circumstances, and be willing to let them guide us and themselves to where their potential lies.

When Sergio asked why Paloma Noyola Bueno hadn’t expressed much interest in math in the past, even though she was clearly very good at it, she said, “Because no one made it this interesting”.

This breaks my heart. Jonathan Kozol said that a quality education should not be be a matter of charity, of “exceptional opportunity”, since charity is not a substitute for justice.

In that light, then yes, day to day, we at Science Club for Girls, and many others, are doing the work of charity, because we can only reach so many kids. But my vision, and hopefully yours, is a just society. Each instance of learning realized, potential unlocked, dream-building-in-progress we share, with the public, with teachers, with administrators, decision makers, is one step towards dismantling stereotypes, of providing social proof that the much larger vision is possible.

If any of educators, volunteers, nonprofit staff members feel discouraged, think of that story of the burro at the end of the article.

I am grateful for all that my staff, volunteers and board do for this organization, for each young woman, for all children.

Let’s keep working on that just society.

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