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‘Math Doctor’ offers educational prescription

The right angle is the foundation of basketball star LeBron James’ clean jump shot and powerful slam-dunk and can be a study in quadratic functions.

The X’s and O’s of the National Football League can be variables in an algebra lesson.

“Teachers have to make lessons relevant to the lives, the culture and reality of their students,” said Shahid “Math Doctor” Muhammad, a national math educator who specializes in improving math achievement in children of color.

Muhammad, a Chicago high school and college math teacher, was the latest speaker brought to Buffalo to offer solutions to the city’s majority black school district that continues to be troubled. He spoke Saturday in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Library on Jefferson Avenue to 125 people and to about 30 people at Mosque 23’s meeting Sunday in the C.R.U.C.I.A.L. Human Services Community Center on Moselle Street.

During his presentations, Muhammad, a member of the Nation of Islam, identified slavery, oppression and white supremacy as among the underpinnings of students’ failure in math and other subjects. The white middle class is idealized in American curriculum, he said, with teachings based on mainstream culture and sensibilities, which resonate with white children. He said the history of black and Latino students must be incorporated into the curriculum to close the achievement gap.

“Not with just one program in the auditorium in February,” said Muhammad, who is an adjunct professor at Malcolm X College and a full-time teacher at Muhammad University of Islam, a Nation of Islam high school. “It needs to be year-round and integrated in all subjects.”

Students grasp mathematical concepts when they see how they relate to their lives, he said. Since black male students tend to be fans of sports and hip-hop music, successful lesson plans have to focus on their interests.

Eva M. Doyle, a retired Buffalo Public Schools teacher, raised money for Muhammad to come to Buffalo. He’s the fourth Afrocentric educator who has come here through Doyle’s efforts since 2011.

Doyle said, “We need to educate the community and educate our educators; there’s something really wrong here. … The majority of the students are African-American, and an Afrocentric approach to education is needed.” She said that she personally invited members of the Buffalo School Board but that none of them attended either of Muhammad’s presentations.

Just 15 of the district’s 56 schools are in good standing with the state, but “you don’t need to be spending a whole lot money to fix the problem. We need creative, innovative changes to the curriculum. We have to change the culture.”

Doyle said she is returning to City Hall on Monday to urge the district to bring Muhammad back to Buffalo to train administrators and teachers.

But parents, Doyle said, also have to take responsibility and become more engaged. “Shame on the black community,” she said. “We have too many organizations, too many people with advanced degrees who need to come together to see what they can add to solving this problem.”

Muhammad, author of “How to Teach Math to Black Students” and workbooks, said that the black community tends to prize sports and entertainment-related accomplishments rather than academics and that this needs to change.