AMTE Mourns with Pittsburgh

November 1, 2018

To our AMTE Community,

As a community of mathematics teacher educators, and as a part of a wider community of humans, we mourn for the eleven souls killed and six wounded in the vicious hate crime at the Tree of Life synagogue last weekend.  Our hearts are with the Jewish community, the City of Pittsburgh, and all of us who are touched by this tragedy.  As we see these acts of terror continue to take root in our world, it becomes increasingly difficult to know what to do, what to say, to whom to say it, and how to find the strength to fight for justice and peace.  In lieu of a more generic set of platitudes, Randy and Mike offer some thoughts and reflections to you, the membership we are tasked to serve.  It is our hope that you find something in our words that gives you comfort, solace, or strength.  

From Randy

When many in a nightclub in Florida were killed and injured as a result of a hate crime against homosexuals, I mourned with the country.

When many in a prayer group in a church in South Carolina were killed and injured as a result of a hate crime against African Americans, I mourned with the country.

When many worshipers in a synagogue in Pennsylvania were killed and injured as a result of a hate crime against Jews, I mourned with the country.

But as a Jew, I noticed something.  Some non–Jewish people in my life reached out to me with words of comfort, acknowledging the additional emotion associated with being a member of the targeted group.  These words of comfort helped me.  And I realized that when people not in the targeted group reach out to those in the targeted group, they have the ability to share something unique:  that they stand alongside.

I did not send any messages to LGBTQ people in my life after the shooting in Florida.  I did not send any messages to African Americans in my life after the shooting in South Carolina.  But in this time of division in our country and the world, acts of decency and compassion positioning us next to others seem powerful.  As mathematics teacher educators, might we model this for our teachers, and might they model this for their students?  

From Mike

I saw the alert come across my phone as I was hustling off an Amtrak train in Baltimore, headed home to my family for the weekend.  Another shooting.  I noted that was Pittsburgh, and I did the sort of thing that we do when something like this happens in a place where we lived: I felt my heart sink a bit more, and I made a note that I should watch for when names were released, on the tiny chance that someone I know was affected.  Thoughts drifted to my time in Pittsburgh, to the neighborhood where Tree of Life is located, where I used to play softball regularly while I was in graduate school.  And then Sunday arrived, names were released, and that tiny chance became a reality.

At the very top of the list was Joyce Fienberg, 75.  Newspaper accounts would identify Joyce as a “research assistant” at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, and longtime research partner of Dr. Gaea Leinhardt.  While factually accurate, those words did not do justice to Joyce and her role in advancing educational research at Pitt.  Gaea would describe Joyce as, “our memory,” as she had a material hand in nearly every piece of educational research Gaea’s team produced over the years.  Joyce would collect data.  She would transcribe.  She would code.  She would write papers.  She would read what those in Gaea’s orbit wrote and push us in productive ways.  She had a keen eye and a sharp memory for the smallest nuance, most obscure and overlooked moment, and key insight in the work that we did.  Joyce doesn’t appear in the byline of my first academic publication, but she was a material participant in it.  I will always remember her handing me a three-inch binder of hand-typed, annotated, and coded transcripts of ten days of Magdalene Lampert’s teaching and sitting with me for hours recreating scenes that had transpired over a decade earlier to help me find the insights that lay in those lines.  Joyce was one of the kindest and gentlest people I ever knew, and there are dozens of us who were stronger from having stood upon her shoulders as we moved through Pittsburgh and worked alongside her.

When a tragedy like this occurs, its tendrils can reach widely and deeply.  It’s sometimes hard to know what about such an event has touched our colleagues and friends.  If you’re in need, reach out.  If you’re simply once again saddened by yet another senseless killing, please remember to reach out to those around you.  You never know who might be in need of your words and your love.

In community,

Randy and Mike