Rotten Pumpkin Literacy Math

While Elizabeth Catlett’s apprentice was upstairs dodging the literacy hall police, the downstairs first grade wing was under an equally intense assault. After all, it is both insulting and assaultive to march into a room full of young children one does NOT KNOW and proceed to to “instruct” them.

This is the destructive fallacy behind techno/researched, data-driven, high finance interventions. They are all rooted in anonymity. The victims must remain invisible, devoid of personhood, reduced to a statistic and just another face in the crowd. The crowd must travel under some sort of label. Any of these will do: Low Income, Impoverished, Title I, Minority, Disadvantaged, Below Grade Level or how about Person of Color? The label becomes an authorization for every manner of outrage. On this day, the color was ORANGE.

An easel was hauled into the middle of a squirming, scooting, squirrelly bunch of six year olds. The fidgety ones were meant to be and designed to be moving about a classroom fingering, eyeballing, counting, weighing, comparing and investigating. That was their instinctive idea of math in practice but alas, it was not to be. Because someone was clutching the Letters of Transit that entitled her to travel into this assembly, command silent, single-minded attention and foist upon them a dog and pony show completely divorced from the most immediate, everyday life of the neighborhood.

I plopped down onto the floor, hiding criss cross applesauce behind a gaggle of gabby girls who were clearly in the thrall of a true boss. She was streetwise, you could hear it in her voice. She had secrets everyone wanted in on. But the easel idiot in charge of this convocation was too busy with her scripted presentation to detect the dynamic.

Princess Pythagoras proceeded in a conspiratorial whisper as if the babyfied, remote feltboard, imitation pumpkin program had evaporated into a magical mist. With an intimate, affirming gaze she began. “Well if I had five bucks. Really! If I had five bucks, here’s what I would do. You know those suckers the ladies sell down in the lunchroom? So they each cost a quarter. That’s 25 cents. And if I had five bucks, I would go there and I would walk right up to the cash register and I would say Please Give Me 20 Suckers. I’d hand over my five dollar bill and then I’d walk around our table and give everyone a sucker. There are 20 of us and every kid in our class would get a sucker.”

Of course she got called out for not listening, for being off-task, inattentive, disrespectful, disruptive – a distinct but distractive voice in the wilderness of pre-packaged, early literacy curriculum. She rolled her eyes, shrugged her shoulders, prompting a giggle from her swarm of admiring sucker sisters.

In an instant she was revealed. Perhaps the oldest child in a big family. Competent, confident and quite capable of taking ten dollars from her adult’s pin money for a grocery shop at the nearby convenience store. She was experienced at traversing sidewalks safely, negotiating ped-xings and traffic lights. In her head she routinely and roughly calculated the prices for required family staples, remaining under budget and on top of change due. She was a trusted, mission accomplished kind of kid.

But every bit of it was lost on the university instructor, parachuted behind the lines to film a literacy infused math lesson featuring pumpkin pablum. Her fruit-free exposition met a juicy grant requirement and was later featured as yet another false flag for age appropriate, child friendly, field-based and effective.