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The MathEdCollective: Collaborative Action in an Era of Cyberbullying and Hate

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Abstract

Critical mathematics educators and organizations in the United States have become the target of cyberbullying and hate-based attacks. These attacks usually involve the same pattern, in which numerous hate-based organizations echo shallow soundbites about an educator's publication or an organization's policy document, inviting readers to attack with hate mail demanding that specific individuals be terminated from their position. In this paper, we present the MathEdCollective, which came together in the last year to create a unified voice from the U.S. mathematics education community to document these attacks, call for collective action, and create an organized online network as a line of defense.
THE MATH ED COLLECTIVE: COLLABORATIVE ACTION IN
AN ERA OF CYBERBULLYING AND HATE
The MathEdCollective
Abstract: Critical mathematics educators and organizations in the United States have
become the target of cyberbullying and hate-based attacks. These attacks usually
involve the same pattern, in which numerous hate-based organizations echo shallow
soundbites about an educator’s publication or an organization’s policy document,
inviting readers to attack with hate mail demanding that specific individuals be
terminated from their position. In this paper, we present the MathEdCollective, which
came together in the last year to create a unified voice from the U.S. mathematics
education community to document these attacks, call for collective action, and create
an organized online network as a line of defense.
BACKGROUND
Recent years have seen the rise of far-right movements across the globe. In the United
States, this has manifested in the election of an explicitly xenophobic, white
supremacist, homophobic, and sexist president, whose platform has emboldened many
forms of hate speech. Critical scholars in mathematics education have been among the
targets of such hate speech, especially those who speak about the violence of white
privilege and white supremacy, and who identify as womxn, people of color, or queer
(Gutiérrez, 2017; 2018). These attacks come from an alt-right [1] mobilized around
whiteness in the form of emails, voicemails, messages posted on social media sites and
blogs (often using stolen IP addresses), conservative news and media sites, as well as
websites masquerading as journalism (Flaherty, 2017; Scheurich, 2017). Unlike
critiques that focus on the rigor of scholarship (e.g., examining researchers’
methodologies, grounding in prior studies, or theoretical perspectives), these attacks
rely on vicious name-calling and frequently involve explicit threats of physical
violence. We summarize these attacks against mathematics education scholars and
organizations and then detail the responses of various sectors of the U.S. mathematics
education community. Our goal is to contribute to an international conversation so that
we can learn with and from colleagues in other countries and collectively strategize
about ways to unite and support one another in the face of organized hate.
THE ATTACKS
The recent wave of attacks on scholars in mathematics education can be traced to
August 2017, when a group called CampusReform wrote a series of reports about (1)
an article by Luis Leyva (2017) in the Journal for Research in Mathematics Education,
titled “Unpacking the Male Superiority Myth and Masculinization of Mathematics at
the Intersections,” (2) a joint statement from the National Council of Supervisors of
Mathematics and TODOS: Mathematics for All titled “Mathematics Education
Through the Lens of Social Justice” (NCSM/TODOS, 2016), and (3) a job posting at
Texas State University for a mathematics educator in which one of the preferred
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qualifications was “knowledge of or engagement with issues of social justice.”
CampusReform, funded and organized by Turning Point USA, brands itself as a
leading site for college news, a “watchdog” that “exposes bias and abuse on the
nation’s college campuses. But as their reports about scholars and scholarship in
mathematics education indicate, what concerns them most are calls for social justice
that challenge the status quo. Their modus operandi is to hire college students to find
instances of critical scholarship on their campuses, write “news” stories about them,
and circulate these stories to their conservative base.
Next, a CampusReform report in October 2017 featured a book chapter by Rochelle
Gutiérrez (2017a), “Political Conocimiento for Teaching Mathematics: Why Teachers
Need It and How to Develop It. The report highlighted Gutiérrez’s argument that
mathematics, as it is traditionally taught, perpetuates white supremacy. This report was
picked up and echoed by Fox News, one of the largest news outlets in the United States.
Subsequently, Gutiérrez began to receive a flood of hate via email, voicemail, and
Twitter, much of it threatening her with termination from her position as a professor at
the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, sexual assault, and other violence.
Little of it reflected familiarity with her scholarship, apart from what CampusReform
and Fox had reported. Additional spinoff articles proliferated, each starting a new cycle
of hate and threats. Members of a closed Facebook group called “Mathematics
Education Researchers” started a Facebook discussion about Gutiérrez’s research,
which quickly filled with comments that were explicitly and implicitly racist and
misogynistic, suggesting that ignorance, discomfort, and anger with regard to critiques
of social injustice in mathematics education are problems that exist within our field as
well.
CampusReform sparked a similar cycle in January 2018 with a piece about Laurie
Rubel’s (2017) Journal of Urban Mathematics Education article, “Equity-Directed
Instructional Practices: Beyond the Dominant Perspective,” taking issue with Rubel’s
pointing to ideological “tools of whiteness in mathematics education. Again,
conservative news and hate sites with large followings (such as Fox News, BreitBart,
and Infowars) were quick to repost the CampusReform piece. This led to a massive
wave of attacks on Rubel through email and Twitter, defending white supremacy and
using language rife with misogynistic, anti-semitic, and homophobic violence.
A number of high-profile scholars and organizations in the U.S. voiced support for
Gutiérrez and Rubel personally and their work through newspaper editorials, position
statements, blog posts, and letters to their institutions. In the next section, we describe
the MathEdCollective a groundswell response to these attacks, highlighting its
activities to date, and outlining its guiding principles.
THE MATHEDCOLLECTIVE
Initially following the attacks detailed above on Leyva, TODOS: Mathematics For
All/NCSM, and Texas State University, a number of scholars (many of whom had
already been in communication about social justice issues in mathematics education)
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began to engage in email conversations about the attacks. When the attacks on
Gutiérrez started, these groups came together for weekly organizing phone calls. These
initial calls started as a place for scholars to connect, to come together in solidarity
against these attacks, and to offer support for Gutiérrez and others who were under
attack. These organizing calls snowballed as more individuals were contacted by
CampusReform for interviews. Through the calls, the MathEdCollective developed
resources/guides about what to do if you or a colleague were contacted by
CampusReform or other hate sites.
The group generated a number of artifacts and tools for the mathematics education
field including an anonymous website, now at http://mathedcollective.wordpress.com/,
an anonymous Twitter account, pop-up sessions at conferences, and resources to
support colleagues under attack. The website began as a way to document the attacks,
archive the many statements of support, and to offer resources. But as the attacks
continued to grow, particularly as the attacks moved from Gutiérrez to Rubel, the
MathEdCollective evolved in its role. Now the MathEdCollective started to generate
more sophisticated tools, such as a set of pre-written response cards for educators,
teachers, and researchers who might need to speak up about the attacks or defend
critical issues within our field, a website template for protecting the intellectual
freedom of K-16 educators used to monitor and report attacks, detailed plans and action
steps for future pop-up sessions and meetings, and a cleaner and more useful website.
ORGANIZING PRINCIPLES
The MathEdCollective came together quickly to express and exhibit solidarity with
U.S. mathematics educators and organizations under attack. The MathEdCollective has
used various sources of inspiration in its organizing, including U.S. Civil Rights Era
activism, works by Paulo Freire and bell hooks, and the hacker-activist group
Anonymous. As the group grew in number and increased its activities, a series of
implicit organizing principles began to evolve. For this paper, we present an analysis
of these principles and demonstrate how the organizing principles correspond to the
Collective’s actions.
1. Shared Ownership of Ideas.
The MathEdCollective practices shared ownership of ideas, which creates a
community that can shield individuals from further harm by “anonymizing” their ideas
through the MathEdCollective’s voice. The shared ownership means that the
MathEdCollective is not an organization that one can truly “belong” to or “serve.”
Rather, it is a collective in which individuals can participate as they want or need. All
participants are connected by a shared purpose, which guides how ideas and actions
evolve and flow over time. Additionally, the MathEdCollective represents a
geographically diverse group of mathematics education researchers at multiple points
in their careers. The collective strives to practice consensus-driven decision making,
radical acceptance, and a shared vision.
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2. Heterarchical and Open Membership.
The MathEdCollective is a heterarchical collective, meaning that it is without
hierarchy. There are no official “leaders” or “representatives.” The MathEdCollective
practices open membership, which means that there is no defined membership or email
list. Anyone who claims to be a part of the MathEdCollective simply becomes part of
the MathEdCollective. This is part of a broader aim of inclusivity in the work of
challenging social injustice. Our goal is not to elevate our own status through an
exclusive club but to call even those who have not previously seen themselves as
advocates for social justice to find a role in this work (whether or not they become
active in the MathEdCollective). The heterarchical and open membership means that,
for artifacts such as the website, the MathEdCollective can allow the sharing of
information without attaching anyone’s name to the content. In this way, the
MathEdCollective operates as an entity, with all of its members and none of its
members. And, the focus on openness allows anyone to contribute ideas without
judgment, even if those ideas are still emerging.
3. Collective Action.
The MathEdCollective exists to create solidarity within the field of mathematics
education, created in the wake of attacks on individual scholars and organizations. No
decisions or action by the MathEdCollective reflect individuals; they reflect the
consensus of the moment with whoever happens to be participating at the time. Actions
taken by the MathEdCollective always reflect this notion that the collective is by and
for mathematics educators. So, even if individuals do not feel they might “belong” or
even engage in the actions of the MathEdCollective, collective action is taken with all
mathematics educators/humans in mind. Again, there are not different ways to
“belong” to the MathEdCollective, one belongs by virtue of acknowledging the politics
and power dynamics involved in mathematics education.
4. Taking the High Road.
Because of the origins of the MathEdCollective in dealing with hate-fueled attacks,
one of its main guiding principles is to take that negative hate and energy and turn it
into something positive and productive. This can be seen in the public tweets that
Gutiérrez engaged in, never arguing or fighting with her attackers, but showing love
and explaining her ideas further. This can also be seen in Rubel’s public sharing of
hate email she was sent, juxtaposed with her calls for inclusion and love within the
mathematics education community. Additionally, the MathEdCollective embraces
community love, which involves taking each person’s physical, emotional, and social
needs just as seriously as their academic needs. The collective seeks to sustain a
community of scholars, and this only comes from loving them rather than exploiting
them for their intellectual energy.
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5. Creative Insubordination.
Creative Insubordination is a term used frequently to speak of ways to disrupt
oppressive practices in mathematics teaching (Gutiérrez, 2013). The
MathEdCollective engages in creative insubordination in how it operates within the
field. For example, the collective has been involved in numerous pop-up sessions at
every major mathematics education-related conference in the last year. The idea for
pop-up sessions came from the desire to host brave dialogues about politics that did
not necessarily reflect the will of the professional organizations. For some of these
conferences, the MathEdCollective was specifically invited to run a session. For other
conferences, the MathEdCollective created the pop-up session first, then informed the
conference organizers that the session was happening only after it was planned. This
delicate dance, working with and around leadership in the field of mathematics
education to create spaces for discussion, is creative insubordination.
UNDERLYING BELIEFS AND GOALS
The MathEdCollective believes that mathematics education, particularly in the U.S. is
a function of and perpetuates whiteness. The MathEdCollective recognizes that all
humans perform mathematics, yet it is only one particular form of mathematics,
layered in whiteness and socioeconomic privilege, that is valued in schools.
The MathEdCollective’s goals are to protect, support, and inspire mathematics
educators (university professors or primary and secondary teachers), document a range
of public engagement with our scholarship (and do so in a click-able and share-able
format), press professional organizations for action in alignment with their policy
statements, bring a moral voice to the mathematics education space, and create a forum
to speak about attacks outwardly and within our field that is safe and humane.
THE MATHEDCOLLECTIVE’S WORK SO FAR
Through weekly and then bi-weekly organizing calls, email exchanges, pop-up
conference sessions, and general discussion within the field, the MathEdCollective has
engaged in numerous projects, listed here, that reflect the organizing principles above.
Outreach/Support to Mathematics Educators.
1. Collected (public) letters of support/solidarity, thereby encouraging others to
take a stand (Organizing Principles 3 & 4)
2. Detailed resources for those under attack (OP 3 & 4)
3. Ran pop-up sessions at various conferences (OP 1, 3, 4, & 5), including:
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Innov8, Joint Mathematics
Meetings (American Mathematical Society, Mathematics Association of
America), Creating Balance in an Unjust World, Science for the People,
Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, Association of Mathematics Teacher
Educators, Latinx in the Mathematical Sciences, AERA Special Interest Group:
Research in Mathematics Education, American Association of University
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Professors (Champaign-Urbana), and National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics Annual.
4. Started Advocacy Center for Teachers Under Attack (OP 2, 3 & 4)
5. Create Go-to Phrases resource (OP 3 & 4)
Advocacy within Academia.
6. Demanded our universities create task forces and policies for addressing future
attacks (OP 3 & 4)
7. Created alliances between mathematicians and mathematics education scholars,
in contrast to previous relationships when such attacks against mathematics
education scholars have occurred so as to reflect a new history in the making
(OP 4)
8. Wrote journal articles that analyze the trend of attacks in our field (OP 4)
9. Developed joint writing projects (OP 1 & 4)
Dissemination to the Public.
10. Created a website that documents what is happening in real time, providing easy
access to an online repository of information and support (OP 1, 4, & 5). Offered
mirrored pages to conservative content so that readers do not give further traffic
to those sites or need to read offensive comments. This online repository is
immediately updatable, operating on a very different time scale than other means
of articulation (i.e., journal articles, conference talks, op-ed pieces) and does not
require permission to publish ideas.
11. Created a Twitter account (OP 1 & 2)
ONGOING TENSIONS
1. Making decisions about who is the “MathEdCollective”: Who “decides” who is
receives the emails? Who is a member?
According to Organizing Principles 1 (Shared Ownership of Ideas) and 2 (Open
Membership), participation and membership become tensions of the
MathEdCollective’s work due to safety concerns given the severity of threats received
by Gutiérrez and Rubel amongst others. There has been concern about informants
accessing collaborative organizing documents in order to plan the next attack.
Therefore, the MathEdCollective has been cautious with whom to collaborate and how
to store information and communicate with each other. This runs counter to the first
two Organizing Principles, and the MathEdCollective has consistently worked to
navigate this dilemma. Attention to safety and a desire to be open also raises tensions
about who has the “authority” to create and/or curate content for the website.
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2. Determining a decision-making process
The MathEdCollective has strived for decision making by consensus. But this ideal
conflicts with Organizing Principle 2 (Open Membership), in which people are not
expected to consistently participate with the Collective. Often, the consensus is the
consensus of those who happen to be involved in the particular conversation at the
time, rather than the consensus of the collective as a whole.
3. “Credit” for doing this work for the field
The MathEdCollective is engaged in work that seeks to benefit the field of mathematics
education, not necessarily the collective itself or any particular organization (e.g.,
NCTM). This creates a tension, particularly for those in tenure-track positions who are
trying to amass “credit” for intellectual work and national service for promotion and
tenure. Who can claim to own intellectual work within the Collective? This tension
also invokes the stark differences between academic or institutional credit, which
operates more like bank credit, and unofficial credit, which operates more like street
credit.
Academia as an institution values original ideas and thoughts, which runs counter to
Organizing Principle 1 (Shared Ownership of Ideas). For instance, the
MathEdCollective struggled to generate a list of contributors for this paper and even
considered no author other than “MathEdCollective. The MathEdCollective engaged
in discussions with a smaller group, then decided to reach out to the larger collective
for feedback, then invited those who planned to attend MES10 for deeper feedback.
Tensions exists with the way scholars are evaluated and valued within the institution
of academia and how these scholars have come together to organize. The
MathEdCollective is still discussing these tensions around authorship, order of authors,
and even considering ways of using creative insubordination to create potential
publishing opportunities for untenured scholars who need institutional “credit” for
scholarship and publications. There is not yet agreement amongst the group about
authorship that meets the Organizing Principles while also playing the game of
academia. The MathEdCollective acknowledges that trying to do powerful activist
work is, in many ways, at odds with how the academy defines and values work. In
addition, the MathEdCollective still struggles with who gets invited to engage in these
conversations (as noted in Tension 1), as the actual list of those involved in the
MathEdCollective is quite large.
4. Whom to trust?
A closed discussion on the private Mathematics Educational Researchers Facebook
group quickly became filled with racist, misogynistic attacks on Gutiérrez and was
locked from further comments. This was the only apparent instance in which people
within the field of mathematics education seemed to be attacking not just Gutiérrez’
ideas, but Gutiérrez herself. Whether these attacks originated from actual mathematics
educators, or from outsiders who “troll” groups in order to antagonize members, is
something that the MathEdCollective has yet to decipher. However, such questions
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raised issues for how to remain open to membership while considering Organizing
Principle 4 of taking the high road and producing positive outcomes.
5. Connecting to the media
The MathEdCollective has only recently achieved limited success in connecting with
the mainstream media in the U.S. The MathEdCollective has struggled in getting
attention within the mainstream media and found that the news media operated in a
particularly politically-siloed way. While the alt-right media seemed to be attacking
Gutiérrez in a coordinated way, relying upon algorithms, many of the outlets that
slanted toward a more liberal viewpoint did not seem interested in picking up the story
that the MathEdCollective was trying to get them to cover. This lack of interest raised
issues for how the MathEdCollective could better connect with or use media to our
benefit in the future. It also shows how the MathEdCollective needs to better use
sophisticated social media algorithms and dissemination strategies such as the alt-right
has used.
6. Danger of appearing cliquish or closed to other voices
The MathEdCollective acknowledges that the U.S. point of view is only a small part
of a global conversation. As the MathEdCollective has evolved, tension exists in how
to learn from other mathematics educators and organizations who have traveled this
road in other countries. Although so much of the MathEdCollective’s story is
embedded in the current political situation in the U.S., the MathEdCollective strives to
connect to similar struggles worldwide in order to be a part of global conversation.
Having said this, the MathEdCollective recognizes that scholars in authoritarian
regimes across the globe face deportation, prison, and worse for their words. The
MathEdCollective acknowledge its privilege, even in this situation, that it has a voice
and a government regime that has not yet silenced through punishment or violence.
FUTURE WORK OF THE MATHEDCOLLECTIVE
Below is a brief list of some of the future work that the MathEdCollective will engage
within, giving consideration to how this organization fits in within the existing global
mathematics education community (including MES), and why this work will continue
to be important.
1. Serve on Advisory Board / Task Force for NCTM Advocacy Center
2. Develop and share a model of how to respond to attacks
3. Help the individual institutions and organizations that members of the
MathEdCollective belong to learn to respond better
4. Place demands on professional organizations (including learning from other
organizations)
DISCUSSION POINTS
1. What might be the role of MathEdCollective, not just within the U.S., but also
globally in supporting/connecting/empowering marginalized and attacked
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voices within the mathematics education community? How might this work
reflect international conversations revolving around attacks on scholars (e.g., the
Scholars At Risk network [https://www.scholarsatrisk.org] or conversations
happening in India [http://www.siawi.org/article14181.html])
2. In the commentary, “Why Mathematics (Education) was Late to the Backlash
Party: The Need for a Revolution”, Gutiérrez (2017b) detailed how the U.S.
mathematics education community was “late” to the ongoing online attacks on
critical scholars throughout academia. How can the MathEdCollective and
others globally organize the entire community to create the revolution that
Gutiérrez calls for?
NOTES
1. We distinguish the alt-right from the broader category of far-right. Alt-right refers to a subset of
the far-right, specifically a subset who views themselves as an alternative to the mainstream far-
right, rejecting mainstream conservatism. And although there is no identified consensus ideology,
white nationalism seems to be fundamental (Daniszewski, 2016).
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Daniszewski, J. (November 26, 2016). Writing about the 'alt-right'. Associated Press.
Retrieved from https://blog.ap.org/behind-the-news/writing-about-the-alt-right
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Flaherty, C. (2017). Professors are often political lightning rods but now are facing
new threats over their views, particularly on race. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from
https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/26/professors-are-often-political-
lightning-rods-now-are-facing-new-threats-over-their
Gutiérrez, R. (2018). When mathematics teacher educators come under attack.
Mathematics Teacher Educator, 6(2), 6874.
Gutiérrez, R. (2017a). Political conocimiento for teaching mathematics: Why teachers
need it and how to develop it. In Kastberg, S., Tyminski, A. M., Lischka, A., &
Sanchez, W. (eds.), Building support for scholarly practices in mathematics methods
(pp. 11-38). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.
Gutiérrez, R. (2017b). Why mathematics education was late to the backlash party: The
need for a revolution. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 10(2), 824.
Available at http://ed-osprey.gsu.edu/ojs/index.php/JUME/article/viewFile/347/224
Leyva, L. A. (2017). Unpacking the male superiority myth and masculinization of
mathematics at the intersections: A review of research on gender in mathematics
education. Journal of Research in Mathematics Education, 48(4)., 397433.
National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and TODOS: Mathematics for ALL.
(2016). Joint position statement: Mathematics education through the lens of social
justice: Acknowledgement, actions, and accountability, 18. Retrieved from
http://www.todos-math.org/socialjustice
Rubel, L. H. (2017). Equity-directed instructional practices: Beyond the dominant
perspective. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 10(2), 66105. Retrieved
from http://ed-osprey.gsu.edu/ojs/index.php/JUME/article/view/324
Scheurich, J. J. (2017). Scholars respond to the Trump regime: Varieties of critique,
resistance, and community. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in
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The Attack on Equity Mathematics Education Scholars and the #IStandWithRochelle
Movement, So Far. (2018, February 5). Retrieved May 24, 2018, from
https://mathedcollective.wordpress.com/2018/02/05/the-attack-on-equity-
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... This collective participatory design research method (Bang & Vossoughi, 2016) means that all participants helped guide the research questions, the research design, and even the interpretation of the data. Additionally, the development of the CARDS reflects the anti-hierarchical organizing principles of the MathEdCollective that disrupts colonial ways of defining people, land, and ideas as things to be owned, taken, and sold (MathEdCollective, 2019;Patel, 2016). ...
Chapter
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Writing about the 'alt-right
  • J Daniszewski
Daniszewski, J. (November 26, 2016). Writing about the 'alt-right'. Associated Press. Retrieved from https://blog.ap.org/behind-the-news/writing-about-the-alt-right
Professors are often political lightning rods but now are facing new threats over their views, particularly on race
  • C Flaherty
Flaherty, C. (2017). Professors are often political lightning rods but now are facing new threats over their views, particularly on race. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/06/26/professors-are-often-politicallightning-rods-now-are-facing-new-threats-over-their