Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Diversity and the MathTwitterBlogoSphere (MTBoS)

I'm catching up on my MTBoS reading after the holiday rush and the post-holiday sluggishness. Today I read Michael Pershan's Year in Review blog post, in which he referred back to a sort of self-reflection from October which I unfortunately missed at that time. If you like Michael's writing, which I do, it's all thought-provoking and engaging, but there's one comment I wanted to highlight and write about:

A quick note about race: there's no real mystery about how to diversify the MTBoS or TMC. You need to seek out teachers of color and invite them to join your circles.

This can be done bluntly or subtlety, depending on what the situation calls for. But if you're interested in twitter being more diverse, then go actually search for teachers of color to follow and then follow and chat and RT them and such.

It bugs me that people treat this like it's some grand puzzle to be cracked. It's just hard work.

I don't especially know Michael, but I can vouch for him on this: both that he practices what he preaches, and that it made a big difference to me, a 49-year-old white woman who can be a little gun-shy about male-dominated professional spaces. I joined Twitter and started this blog this past summer. I haven't been blogging or even tweeting much lately, but I am fully intending to pick up the pace more in 2015, especially over the summer.

The fact that I have been and will be tweeting and blogging instead of just lurking or wandering away is due more to Michael than any other single individual, and it is from just what he said here: he noticed me, paid attention to what I said, engaged in conversation with me online, was one of my first followers, and recommended others to follow me. This kind of welcome, from him and others in the MTBoS, and the active, lively, respectful conversations among women and men of diverse ages and teaching roles, kept me on Twitter at a time when I easily could have felt there was not much of a place for a 48-year-old woman in this new(ish) space whose most famous citizen (at least to me) was a young white guy. If we want to hear from all kinds of teachers, we should make sure they know they're not tweeting into a vacuum, and the best way to do that is to respond somehow.

One conversation from my first few weeks on Twitter stands out in my memory, enough that I just went back and dug it up to make sure I had it right. It was about one of Michael's posts on feedback. I commented there and, I think, tweeted something early on and was included among the names in the tweets for a few rounds. My name got dropped after a bit, which didn't bother me, but I kept reading the conversation because it was interesting. Then all of a sudden this happened:

I was stunned, in a good way, but I don't think I answered either of those remarks (till now, obviously) because I had no idea what to say. I felt like I didn't understand Twitter culture enough (I still am not quite sure of the etiquette of barging into threads when your name's not on the list, though I do it now anyway); I felt they had nothing to apologize for about dropping me and didn't know how to say that and appreciate the thought at the same time; I worried anything I would say in response would sound patronizing (wow, you're a young white guy and you're aware of sexism? gold star for you!). All of those things are still true, but I'm going ahead and saying something now because it made a big difference to me that they noticed and cared that including me would change it from an all-male conversation.

Within a few weeks, I had found plenty of women and men on Twitter to follow (and others to read frequently even if I didn't follow them), some of them followed me too, and I was hooked. I've been cautious about following too many accounts for fear of getting swamped, but after reflecting on my own experiences, I'm going to try harder next year to seek out and follow teachers who I wish I could hear more from, not just wait till their accounts are full of interesting posts... which might never happen if they are tweeting into the void.


  1. Thanks for this great post. I've been thinking a lot lately about how to be a part of teacher learning communities and how to foster them so that *everyone* benefits as much as possible. The things I fear are echo chambers, experts talking down to novices, and lurkers who don't feel they're allowed to engage. My question for you is about echo chambers. Every community I'm a part of has a little bit of "yes, that's great, we're super awesome!" but my favorite communities are the ones that have at least a little bit of "I disagree, convince me that you're right" and hopefully very rare "You're wrong, I'm out". What I'm wondering is what mix of those three looks most enticing to a new person or a lurker who's deciding whether to engage.

  2. Thanks for commenting! I think you have to be either a real crusader or rather unpleasant to be voluntarily involved in a community you don't think is at least a LITTLE awesome, but personally I agree with you that space for non-destructive disagreements is crucial as well.

    I think opinions on the best "mix" of disagreements and yay-us, and the style of discussions, will be very personal, though. I've been through a few rounds of social media (starting with Usenet in the early 90s) and sat out some others (mostly Facebook, which always left me cold), and the cultural differences that spring up are fascinating to me. I'm from the argumentative, interruption-heavy East Coast and need to reign in those tendencies in the politer, more restrained Northwest, so I personally love to read and take part in back-and-forth Twitter discussions (arguments? debates?) that others might find exhausting and annoying.

    Since the MTBoS doesn't exist outside of its creators, it just makes sense to me that the more that people with a whole lot of different life experiences are posting and taking part, the more it will naturally adapt to suit people with diverse life experiences. But if people feel invisible or are ignored, they won't stick around to post and take part. Obviously there are math tweeters and bloggers of color who have stuck around and have a wide audience, and are way more prominent than I am, and I'm not really talking about them, but rather about other people out there who will show up online in the next year, or who tweet and post now less often than they might.

    Maybe someday the automated translators will be more seamless and we can talk more across the world, too!

  3. You mentioned a more international discussion. Since English is an official language in Singapore, there should be some easy pickings from there. Here is one I just found that may offer a gateway to others: PD leader's blog.

    More of a stretch, here is at least one resource from Spain that I really like, the ESTALMAT program:
    Index of Activities

    Material is in spanish, but I'm sure an increasing number of US teachers will be able to read it. Personally, I have only a bit of experience learning Spanish (maybe amounts to a year of serious study) but I get most of it from knowing the math.