EdTech, Valuing Culture and Fulfilling “Every Tribe and Nation”


The critical nature of building relationship with students has been an overarching theme to my identity as a teacher this school year. My heart felt burdened with an insurmountable task as the first day approached in August, and it continues to dominate my end-of-the-day reflection into the spring.

No, you can’t just go sit in the office today.
Yes, I hear everything you say. Even under your breath. (Because I think its important to hear more of what you’re saying than just x=4)
Yes, its breaks my heart that its not even halfway through the quarter and you’ve already decided you won’t try.
No, I won’t just go away because you obviously have enough people in your life that just ignore you because its easier.

The ethnicity of my students has not really changed since I started 6 years ago, but this year I perceive that many of my students see me as a the white guy that cannot or will not understand them.

Do you ever feel that?

I don’t believe its an accident. The title of this blog, Evangelizing the [digital] Natives, is really about the importance of teaching and training technology use even to the generation often perceived as “getting it,” but tonight I do want to talk about Jesus, ethnicity, and mission.

If you’re a teacher that’s a Christian, you must believe that just as He has with your spouse, your family, your friends, and your co-workers, God has placed you and those students together. And its about more than just math. (or English, science, art, history, personal finance, etc). The objective is different depending on the kids you get any given year, but the mission is always about God’s Kingdom.

In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John write about a vision of heaven that he receives from Jesus. Sure, a lot of it is symbolic, but surely this is not:

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

This post is not about prayer in schools or religious freedom. It’s about acting intentionally for “all tribes and peoples and languages” because that’s what God says heaven will look like (And so we should practice the same here).

It’s February, Black History Month, so our student news in the morning is featuring short interviews of local African Americans talking about success. By default, many of my students tune out the Star News and would rather just talk to classmates around them or bury their face in their phone, but I’ve made a very obvious point of emphasis during this month to focus attention on Star News.

Today, I got this question: “Mr. Baker, why do you care so much about this?” [Yes! He noticed I cared!] To be honest, I don’t even remember my answer, but I love that he noticed. It’s more logical for English teachers or history teachers to openly care about race because they must discuss its role in literature and history. It’d be weird NOT to address it, but I think many STEM teachers (and students) view their subjects as transcendent of it.
You can imagine a teacher saying something like, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, purple, or green – you’ve gotta solve an equation.”

Yes, that’s a true statement, but the context of that truth is different because of the difference in how my students interact with the general culture. I don’t have any lessons on African number systems, or projects on famous African-American mathematicians, but I think doing “culture” that way would do my kids a disservice. I polled them recently on if they wanted to do a “Black History Month” themed math lesson and the summary of their responses was a resounding, “Eh.”

When we are culturally responsive one unit at a time, or as an obvious add-on, it continues to strengthen a disconnect between my students’ life experience and “real” math.

My students don’t need more lessons on the contributions of Benjamin Banneker to geometry, they need more tools to address, communicate, and solve the problems of their community.

Your use (or lack thereof) of technology in your class can do a lot to sculpt students’ self-perception, their outlook on math relevance and their capacity for future success.

I think schools with high percentage of racial minorities need to be the MOST innovative with their use of technology in the classroom, because I don’t know about you, but the only time I see brown children doing cool stuff in the media with technology is when Bill and Melinda Gates are posing for photo-ops. Schools with high-needs students MUST make bold, creative budget and resource decisions so that kids can stop waiting for the next (grant funded) savior and know that having or not having is often about intentional budget choices

You must be MORE uncomfortable with letting the kids use technology when you are MOST afraid of it getting trashed. You’ll probably be one of many adults that was highly protective of the new technology around them, but you might be the first to let them kick the tires. Show them how to care for it, and have consequences when they aren’t, but let them USE it.

Leverage social media and Web 2.0 tools to give your students an audience for their work. As far as interactions with my students, i think the prevailing attitude is that what they say or do is only important as an athlete or musician – that their only worth to the Internet is highlight reels and music videos. This is true for any kid, but tell a kid that you’re so proud of the work you know they’re going to do that you want to put it on the Internet and watch the pride or shock in their reaction.

You’re in the classroom you’re in with the kids you have for more than just teaching your subject and giving tests. You’re all there to work to the greater glory of God, and you’re there as the teacher to nurture an environment that reflects God’s will for His creation as “all tribes and peoples and languages.” Let’s use education technology as a tool in service to that.