Consultants… really?

Disclaimer: This post is snarky, a little exaggerated, and in no way is meant to be anything more than me just hamming our meeting up.

We like having people talk to you. So says my school. Which is why they bring in consultants. And honestly, although it may sound like kvetching, well, it is. But it also has a larger point.

We have consultants for curriculum mapping, for drug and alcohol training, and just yesterday, for creating an “anti-bias” curriculum. I want to talk about yesterday.

My school is amazing in many ways, and one of the ways it excels is with its diversity work. Our diversity coordinator (yes, we have a full time person with that title) has been pushing for us to move to the last frontier: take what we’ve already done so well at and start applying it to the curriculum.

I can definitely get behind that.

So after school we heard a consultant tell us how we can do that. And throughout her whole talk, I did what I try never to do with the speaker in the room. I rolled my eyes. A lot. I might have been having eye seizures. Yes, it was that bad. Maybe worse than the consultant who told us to “imagine we were on a plane… but the plane wasn’t built… and we were building it while it was flying…” In that instance, we were getting an analogy for, well, maybe how to write terrible analogies. Who really knows? All anyone remembers from that consultant is the bad analogy, not what it was for. But that was then. Back to my eye rolling speaker.

So this speaker comes to us, in my opinion pretty unprepared [1] and with bad powerpoint skills, repeats “that’s why they pay me the big bucks,” and spews off either commonsense as Great Knowledge Being Imparted or pure tripe.

I know you’re just salivating now for an example of pure tripe. And it’s juicy. Her math example. How to make math anti-bias. (And, I should preface, that in the beginning of her talk, she mentioned the questions we may be having, like how to make polynomials anti-bias, and then later when asked what her answer is, she responded “I don’t even know what a polynomial is.”) Here it is:

Passive curriculum: “There are 200 miles between point A and point B. Driving at 15 miles per hour, how long will it take to get from point A to point B?”

Multicultural curriculum: “Jose lives 20 miles from school. Driving at 25 miles per hour, how long will it take Jose to get to school?”

Anti-bias curriculum: “Jose needs to get from his home to the far side of the city. If he goes the most direct route, how long will it take him? But Jose can’t go in certain parts of the city because they are dangerous. So how long will it take him if he goes an alternative route.”

No, seriously. SERIOUSLY. SERIOUSLY! I can’t tell you how dead serious I am. It was the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever heard.

Later, when pressed on it, the consultant admitted the problem was bad and then changed it to some problem with numbers of people on a bus and the probability that someone black would get out somewhere… wait that sounds wrong… by then, my head was expelling smoke and I couldn’t really focus…. but it was something like that.

Individually I talked with her and turned the screw by really giving her the lowdown of what math in a high school is, and how statistics easily lends itself to these sorts of social justice questions, but much of what we do doesn’t. And that I don’t see why we would want it to. It felt somewhat vindicating to hear her concede and say that the math teachers couldn’t really make an anti-bias curriculum.

She was — in my opinion — playing a giant joke on us. Giving us a parody of what an anti-bias curriculum might look like. You know, to get us to rebel and talk amongst ourselves about what we really think one would look like. Right? RIGHT? Hey, if that’s the goal, it worked. I have had three conversations about anti-biased curriculum since, all initiated by the “do you believe that consultant yesterday?” If that wasn’t the super double secret plan, then I can’t believe the school just spent goodness knows how many dollars to waste my time.

I know this is a rant. And I need it to be a rant. Because even though I love my school, sometimes I wonder what they are thinking. Knowing nothing about an anti-bias curriculum, I could have given a better talk. After my second year of teaching. That’s what infuriates me.

I know a lot of people I talked to were upset with the speaker. I don’t blame the school for working on this initiative. I love that we’re a school that actively works on diversity issues. The only thing I ask from the administration is that next time we meet, they agree with us that the consultant wasn’t up to snuff. Just hearing that would make me feel the administration understands us teachers and is on our side and we are working together.

My larger point: consultants are soooo overrated.

Signing off,
Sam

[1] Example: One of the go-to examples of how to create an anti-biased curriculum was a lesson designed around “To Kill A Mockingbird.” And the speaker said she hadn’t read it in years, and had cagey phrases like, “if I remember correctly…” If this is your paragon example, shouldn’t you really have read the book and know it pretty well?

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4 comments

  1. Hey Mr Shah!!
    i love your article really…
    but, i have been trying to look for functions that are continous everywhere and differentiable nowhere… i got this page and still dont have an answer..
    am jus a first year-:)

  2. Right, huh? Never had an anti-bias training or multicultural ed class that didn’t seem painfully contrived, even though I was sympathetic to the project and wanted to learn something applicable. If you were doing the talk. what three points would definitely include?

  3. Aside from the anti-bias example being the most biased of the three, I’m with H.

    I love the concept of incorporating cultural education into math. I can see how it works with stats. I can bring it into basic calculation problems. But, honestly, incorporating Lakota culture into every lesson was a bit much. Usually stretched my lesson plan descriptions with students “will practice sharing knowledge with each other” or “will practice courage while taking the quiz.”

    In your discussions post session, have you generated ideas that don’t feel so forced?

  4. @H and @Sarah,

    We didn’t actually have “discussions post session” yet — we have another anti-biased curriculum meeting at some point in the future where this weill probably happen.

    I personally think that we all have different roles for this initiative at different levels (lower, middle, and upper schools) and each discipline in the middle and upper needs to work differently on it. For math, I say let’s not talk about anti-bias (except maybe in statistics). In our classes, we can focus on non-curricular things. Like how we respect students, how we have students respect each other, how we set up the classroom to be a safe place, etc. What I’ve been told has been called the “hidden curriculum.”

    In other disciplines (especially English and History), the roles will be different. Like reading books with gay themes and delving explicitly into those themes, or making sure to learn about world history without ignoring minorities (or more than that, talking explicitly about why minorities get excluded, how history is construction, and history gets written by the victors). But you know, I bet some of our teachers are already doing this. It’s not like these are *great* ideas bestowed from on high. They’re pretty commonsense, if you are trying to work towards antibias.

    In general, outside of the classroom in my school, we need to find ways to talk about bias in meaningful ways, about class and sexual orientation, especially, I think. Those are what we should have a consultant give us advice on. Because those two issues especially make both teachers and students feel uncomfortable, and that’s why they aren’t really talked about as freely. Which gives them a power that they ought not to have.

    Sam.

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