Recalling the words of my PhD advisor, Joe Diestel:
“When you can’t do anything about it, do mathematics.”
I knew that my young math students, first-time voters, would need license to move around and to talk, would be craving reassurance that they weren’t abandoned by dumbfounded adults with no answers, but that most of all they craved what we all want: direction, meaning and purpose.
So I wrote them a stiff, relevant, workable trigonometry review sheet and posted to let them know there would be work to be done on Wednesday. I strengthened the importance with a warning (No Calculators Or Books Allowed); I offered hope for success (You Will Work With A Study Partner and For The Whole Class Period); and handed the plum (Attendance Points AND Mathematical Achievement Points may be Earned.)
They came. Exhausted raccoon circles of sleeplessness, wary eyes darting in search of safety, companionship and assurance from each other and finally daring to peek at me to measure what empathy, what hope, what experience and direction, what of any possible help I could offer to them.
They pounced on the worksheets so grateful for order and activity. They huddled with each other pounding at the exercises and sharing their souls. Some required hugs; some required my stories; a group demanded to know whom I had supported and what I would do about the result; a few shyly showed me the toys they were carrying for comfort; they demanded mathematical reminders and hints; they argued, roared, laughed and remembered some math together — and most left with a little more self-confidence in their mathematical abilities and their faith in community.