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A Math Teacher Writes / François Bereaud

In looking for something related to my last post, I came across an artifact that shocked me and will be the subject for this one. Some quick background:

My third teaching position was at the Alternative Community School in Ithaca, NY. It was a remarkable school, beautiful in its imperfection, and I will have much more to say about it in future posts. In brief, it’s where I learned to teach and was given the freedom to explore curriculum beyond the textbook and the walls of the classroom. In my last couple of years there, I developed a high school class I called “Numeracy” (“Quantitative Literacy” today). My essential question for the course was: “What does it mean to be numerate in today’s society, personally and as a citizen?” The course content included probability and statistics, current media items, financial math, and even some chaos theory. The students did a series of projects on topics of their choosing.

When I left Ithaca to come to San Diego, I put together a professional portfolio to show potential school district employers (that turned out to be completely unnecessary). I included some student work samples including a few Numeracy Projects. I will share K’s project from June 1998: “Sorting throughout the Moomoi”. I’m sorry that I don’t remember K which is unusual as I can visualize the faces of the other students whose work I saved.

K’s project begins:

The headlines have disappeared. The fear has subsided. The news organizations have filed the footage. 

In the middle of her text:

 I remember when I could go to school without the fear of being shot by one of my schoolmates. 

In conclusion, K writes:

When I started this project, it seemed simple enough. I’d gather some statistics, make some graphs, and be done. I quickly found a need to keep looking. I’ve searched for hours upon hours. I found a lot of statistics and a lot more opinions. I haven’t found any answers. I haven’t found anything that makes it okay.

And as a footnote:

*Moomoi is the term created and used by K to refer to the phenomena of school shootings.

The body of her project includes a table and three graphs which I want to share.

This table contains the shooting she analyzed. When I looked at the numbers, my first reaction was “Oh, most of them only have one or two or three dead.” Then I was horrified and ashamed of that thought.

K gives us three graphs from her research (they should have been scatterplots, not sure if I was savvy enough then to give her that feedback).



Graph A gives us the age of the shooter in each case, Graph B the number of victims, and Graph C the population of the town. She correctly concludes that the age of the shooter does not correlate with the number of victims but that the size of the town does. This may be because the smaller the town is, the more the child might appreciate life. It’s a theory, though not supported by the cases of Sandy Hook and Uvalde. The graphs are smart graphs, which when taken together begin to answer the statistical questions with which sixteen-year-old K was grappling in the context of horror.

I think about K as a teenager and as an adult. Back then, I would have said our small, hippie school was the epitome of safety, yet she was not without fear. And consider, “Moomoi”, the word she needed to invent, a pleasant-sounding word, to avoid having to repeat the awful words, “school shooting”.

Now K is in her early 40s. Perhaps she’s a parent. Perhaps she lives in a community directly affected by Moomoi. Undoubtedly, she has seen more statistics.

I rediscovered this project a few weeks ago, a project completed less than a year before Columbine which I might have wrongly pegged as the start of this tragic madness. Twenty-five years since K completed this work and all I can be is fucking sad, fucking angry and fucking helpless.

I have to believe that teaching, facilitating learning for others (and oneself in the process), is a noble endeavor. Moomoi is the antithesis. To borrow from Pete Seeger, “Oh, when will we ever learn?”


François Bereaud teaches and writes in San Diego.


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