In the Service of our Ancestors and African Love,
Listen Seeker, I come in peace,
“It is vain that we talk of being men, if we do not the work of men” – Frederick Douglass
It was asked of me, if I am so good at math, why don’t I teach our kids the subject? It was a well-meaning question but it was, like most things in our community, ill-informed. Teaching math to kids usually means teaching kids how to pass exams and classes to eventually become well-paid servants to their white governors. I’ve seen my peers transform from men of the people to men of the dollar. If our people only conceive math as a utility for transforming our children into highly ambitious slaves then I’ve better endeavors to undertake.
Still the offer was decent. A few days a week for a few weeks and a little pocket change to go with it. I approached it with an open mind. Why not? Let’s see what I could do to mold the children who are already being molded for failure.
To my surprise, teaching was its own reward. It was self-evident that the youth were being purposely mislead for purposeless lives. What’s more, I was reminded of the failures of my own mathematical education. i.e. the wrongful obsession with 12 in multiplication and the outright overlooking of the importance of 0. I taught a few helpful tricks I discovered years ago, and their transformed grades (albeit for a system designed against them) brought me a bit of delight.
I’ve since quit the program, but perhaps my most memorable experience was when I asked the “How many Black men were left?” question. The experience was as follows.
How many Black men were left after . . .?
By Onitaset Kumat
After teaching my students numbers and relaying the importance of understanding and solving word problems, I designed my own which required deep thinking to answer. The question was, “A year ago, a community had 300 people, for every woman there was a man and for every man there were two children. After the year, the children remained children but ten men were shot, twenty men were arrested and thirty men abandoned the community. How many Black men were left?”
I gave the children time to answer this question. After pens were down, I asked the children what the solution was. My proudest student sought my acknowledgment and when granted it, he announced with pride: “15.” I asked him to explain. So he shared, “If there were 300 people, and there were two children for every woman and one man for every woman then women made up one-quarter of the people and so did men. Therefore there were seventy-five Black men in the community. And it becomes simple subtraction from here, 75 Black men minus 10 gun victims minus 20 arrest victims and minus 30 men who abandon leaves 75 minus 60 or 15.” He smiled and looked around for support. A young lady showed him a thumbs up. I asked who in the classroom agreed and seeing the majority I asked those who disagreed to stand up. A handful stood.
So I asked the first boy why he disagreed. He said, “Firstly, we don’t know whether all of the men were Black.” The class nodded. “Next,” he remarked, “How are we so sure that every Black man who was shot passed away—or even that every Black person who was shot wasn’t also arrested or didn’t also abandon the community? While I agree that there were at most 75 Black men in the beginning, the only sure deduction we know about is those who abandoned the community.”
A young girl interrupted, “Well, we can’t even know that, honestly. After all, one can be arrested and return to the community in a year—my brother did that. Also one can abandon the community and change their mind. I’ve seen people do this often. I’d venture to say that 75 were the beginning count—or less than 75—but I don’t think we can say how many Black men were left definitively. For we can’t say what the starting number was or the ending number.”
“Interesting,” I said to the class. Does everyone agree to this?
“Well, Teach,” as they would call me, “was this an all-Black community?”
“That’s a good question, and if it would help you, then you can say it was.”
“In that case,” the girl remarked, “while we can say there were 75 Black men in the beginning, it’s impossible, unless we know how the three deductions (if they are deductions) are mutually exclusive, to determine the number after. If they are all mutually exclusive then of course there are only 15 Black men remaining. Is that right, Teach?”
“Well, let me ask you guys. Who here disagrees with that answer? Stand up.” The class was entirely seated. But I did notice one boy who had an expression of doubt, confusion and timidity. I called on him and said, “You look as though you wish to stand. Stretch your legs and express yourself.”
While the class was very well-spoken and well-reasoned, this boy was correct. He said, “I think there were zero Black men left.” I encouraged him to continue despite the snickers. “Hear me out. If there was a Black man in that community, would he have allowed ten to be shot, twenty to be arrested and thirty to abandon their families wholesale? I’d wager that despite their being 75 men and all 75 having Black skin, not a one was a ‘Black man.’ And even if there were, he or they was among those taken out. I do not conceive that the Black man as a protector and provider was present in this community at any point, but I do wager that the destruction of that community would suggest that none were left.”
“Whoever disagrees, stand up?” I asked. The whole class was seated.