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News & Press January 2023

The Racial Justice in Early Mathematics (RJEM) Project: protecting the rights of historically marginalized children to flourish in Early Math

By: Priscila Ulegis Pereira

The Racial Justice in Early Mathematics (RJEM) project – a collaboration between Erikson Institute and the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) – focuses on addressing issues of systemic racial injustices in the math education of young learners. Established in December 2019 and led by Dr. Jennifer McCray (Erikson Institute) and Dr. Danny Bernard Martin (UIC) with funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation, the project draws on the expertise of a diverse group of stakeholders including parents, teachers, community organizers and researchers. RJEM’s main goals are to

  1. identify key issues of racial injustice in the teaching and learning of early math,
  2. create spaces for difficult (and often uncomfortable) conversations and reflections that are necessary to address the complexity of racism, and
  3. offer opportunities for educators to develop teaching practices that foster racial justice.

Issues of racial injustice such as white supremacy, antiblackness, xenophobia and others are inherent to mainstream educational settings in the United States. In such settings, all children are prevented from engaging in holistic approaches to learning and development that honor diverse ways of knowing and being in the world. When exposed to educational systems that do not foster racial justice, many children of historically marginalized groups and their families are seen through deficit-based perspectives that subject them to educational neglect, adultification, surveillance, criminalization, and other forms of dehumanization and violence. Because RJEM believes that all children have the right to flourish and develop their mathematics identity in nurturing and affirming spaces, the project attempts to bring racial justice to the forefront in the field of early math education. In 2020, RJEM published a Call to Action asking the field to commit to name and dismantle white supremacy and antiblackness in all their manifestations. The Call to Action has been signed by over 600 people and organizations from across the world.

After two years of studying and planning, RJEM organized the 2022 Promising Math Conference: Racial Justice in Early Math. Attended by over 130 participants from across the country, the conference allowed educators to discuss the impacts of white supremacy and antiblackness on early math education, learn about educational spaces that protect the right of Black children to flourish, reflect in their own participation in maintaining oppression, and reimagine educational practices that foster racial justice.

In recognition of the great work RJEM has done, the Heising-Simons Foundation has recently awarded the project $900,000 for the implementation of the first Racial Justice in Early Math Teaching Fellowship during the 23-24 school year and the first National Meeting of Racial Justice in Early Math Education in the summer of 2024. The RJEM Teaching Fellowship is a one-year- professional development, mentoring, and research opportunity intended to support kindergarten teachers from across the United States. Through individual mentoring sessions and group seminars, Fellows will develop a robust understanding of racial justice in early math, implement racial justice centered teaching practices in their classrooms, participate in a network of mentorship and peer support, and contribute to a growing understanding of how early math teaching can further the cause of racial justice. Each Fellow will be awarded a stipend of $7,000 for their participation. Applications are now open and will close mid-February.

To learn more about the Racial Justice in Early Mathematics Project subscribe to the RJEM Newsletter by signing the Call to Action.

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