2 O’clock Drop: Curiosity, Coates and Manipulatives


I was walking into my 12th class of the day.

I was doing 20 minute observations with the intention of seeing every grade in the same four content areas. I didn’t look at teachers names, only the times, the subject and the grade.

So, like I said, I walked into my 12th class of the day. It was a math class. The White female teacher smiled widely when she saw me. She was excited that I was coming into her classroom.

At first, I did what I normally did, found a seat in the cut, somewhere where I could see the entire class and just observe.

I am not one of those observers who walks around hovering over kids and asking them what they are doing, intruding in their space. I like to slide in the cut and watch.

I didn’t know what grade it was because I had not planned on going into this class. I had left my scheduled classroom early, because it seemed like in all the Humanities classroom students had to read silently for 20 minutes. No need to stay.

So, I went across the hall.

The tables were grouped in fours and in the middle was this bin with manipulatives. When I sat down and tried to be in-cog-negro (yep, that’s what I said) I got pulled into the lesson. Students had to use the manipulatives to solve the equation.

Ummmmmm, huh?

There were two young men sitting across from me, the Black boy looked unimpressed the Latino boy looked confused. I was with the Latino boy, I was confused but intrigued to try.

d36c569b66dd214a958cf276e4c0ce7f--algebraic-expressions-maths-algebra.jpgThe teacher says we need to use the pieces to make a rectangle and solve the equation X2+3x+2. Go ahead make that a rectangle. 

I go over to them and try to engage them in conversation as I go through the bin looking for the pieces I needed.

The Black boy was mute. The Latino boy was talkative and letting me know he ain’t know what the f was going on.

I was like, me and you both bruh.

I stayed the entire period, “solving” equations by trying to use these pieces to make rectangles. Me and the Latino kid eventually got into a mild competition seeing who could figure out the designs and then write the equations. The Black boy would smile every once in the while. He was getting all the right answers but wouldn’t show us. He never spoke a word and would barely laugh at my self deprecating jokes.

I have always struggled in math and so these manipulatives and shapes and formulas had my mind going. I even got the right answer with a shape that the teacher said no one had ever made before, which made it much harder to write out the equation.

I was so excited about that math class.

I was curious.

The boys were not. (My estimation based on their non-verbal language.)

I walked out happy about my experience but sad about theirs.

download.jpgWednesday night I was one of the 3000 people who came to Kings Theatre in Brooklyn to hear Ta-Nehisi Coates speak about his new book; We were eight years in power. An American Tragedy.

I’m going to start at the end.


Coates was asked, how should his books be taught in schools?

He paused.

He seemed uncomfortable with the question.

He began his response by saying (paraphrasing) that it was weird to hear about his download-2.jpgbooks being taught in school, when school was never a successful place for him. That he hated school. That school tried to steal his curiosity, and that school was not made for him.

He then said (paraphrasing) I tell kids, when I’m invited to talk at schools that they shouldn’t let anyone steal their curiosity especially schools and teachers.

This is my memory of what he had said. All of ya’ll who were out in them streets can add or subtract from your memory, what he said and share below. (I’m talking to you Jeremy Patrick, Abram, Vincent, Allyson and anyone else who was there.)

As I waited in line to walk out of the theatre. I thought about my experience in that math class and that school the day prior. I thought about how curious and excited I was and how lukewarm and uninterested the boys were.

I reflected on all 14 classrooms I sat in on and how the only highlight was that math class. And I mean no disrespect towards any of those teachers. But for me,

There was no curiosity.

There was no inquiry.

There was no discovery.

There was very little cognitive demand.

What was true this week in the classes I visited, was also true when Coates was a child in school.

A man who is deemed one of our generations most prolific writers, thinkers and social critics and commentators was a subpar student. He has often said, he barely made it through middle school, got kicked out of high school and dropped out of college.

School was not made for him.

59% of Black Males and 65% of Latino Males graduated High School in 2013. Where are they? And what gifts do they have for our society that we may be missing right now?

Most of all, I want to know, are they still curious?

I really want to dig into the 6% difference between Black and Latino male graduation rates. But I’m going to leave that alone right now.

Anyway, I’m going to take the rest of the month, possible just this long weekend to read Coates new book. I’m 2 chapters in and I’m filled with inspiration. Not hope, because Coates doesn’t do hope but I am inspired.

Enjoy your 3 day weekend…please recognize you have the day off to celebrate a criminal and killer. Around these parts the only Christopher we celebrate is Wallace. And you better enjoy it because you won’t have this holiday for much longer. Indigenous People’s Day is coming for that ass! And if you’re down in Miami, fete for me.




  1. Hey Ms. Love,
    I had a conversation with Vito about Mr. Coates last night as I had peeped that you guys were @ the Kings Theater on Twitter! lol. After reading your commentary, I am thinking most about the word too “curiosity” because all week I have been reflecting on how I can wake that “spirit” up in some of my students. I have found myself going back to the drawing board again and again. I realize that I am spending too much time with my own agenda. So…. this will be the ongoing question as I plan. In each lesson, I will be thinking, where am I allowing the opportunity for my student’s curiosity to have a seat at the table and continue to encourage and inspire them to search for more. Thank you for always dropping the jewels and stay blessed.

  2. My notes (yes, I always have notes) for that part of the talk say:

    There is a strong anti-education thread throughout my writing, so it’s a little strange that my books are used in schools

    I hated school because it wasn’t for me, it wasn’t a place for me to learn. Learning and what happens in schools is often different

    [i.e. “schooling” vs. “education”] [This is Abram’s note/connection, not something TC said. Some of my recent academic work has been around this dichotomy in our social discourse…]

    I tell people all the time that learning is not about getting a grade, or about pleasing people (which is what school is usually about). Learning is about innate curiosity, and people have to defend that curiosity, not let anyone/anything take it away.

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