Friday, 4 August 2017

You Cannot Include Everybody

I’m sorry. I know it hurts for someone to hear that, and (believe it or not) it hurts to say that, but welcome to reality: You Cannot Include Everybody. Not in a huge group. It’s not possible.

Now, some readers just gave up and clicked away, because that first paragraph wasn’t welcoming enough for you. Again, I’m sorry, because this message does come from a place of caring. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t include at all, this isn’t all or nothing, I’m saying you literally cannot include everybody. It’s like dividing by zero, the universe doesn’t allow that.

For those of you still reading, wondering who is this bizarre teacher, promoting a message of non-inclusivity, that’s not it either. Also, I’m not only a teacher, I’m also a writer, and a mediocre artist. Know what the max out point is for people in a writing critique group? About six people. Roleplay groups can start to get awkward above that number too. Hell, there’s a reason teachers are always trying to keep class sizes low.

There’s also a philosophy that, after about 2-3 years of writing for your critique group, you should find another one. Because you’ve started writing stories that please your critique group, not the broader audience who might buy your books.

Still with me? Okay then.


For those readers who are writers or webcomic artists, I hope you’ll still be able to take something away from this post, but know it is geared more towards teachers. And that weird acronym, above. That said, in the last two weeks, a fiction forum where I post has been having an issue with overloaded submissions from a particular site (as it’s not feasible for one person to process all of them) and a webcomic chat I participate in has had a wonderful person getting down on themselves for feeling like they cannot share (voice gets drowned out). So some sentiments may be relevant.

And for those readers, I summarized the whole MTBoS thing in my latest webcomic update. Analogies! Satire! Possibly overstepping my boundaries! Meh, only 20 people have seen it, benefits of obscurity.

For those of you who ARE teachers in the MTBoS, part of me feels like I should offer up credentials/history. Since, wow, is it a mixed bag with me. I joined Twitter, not for my teaching, but to promote my writing. I was (apparently) one of the first to use the MTBoS hashtag, in June 2013, and I presented at TMC13. To the one solitary person who came to my session. (Erin Scott, I still peek from time to time. All the best.)

I “left” the MTBoS in 2014, and I don’t monitor the hashtag, but I’ll respond if I stumble on it in my feed. I’ve still participated in the Explore missions, acted as a Mentor, tried to amplify DITLife, and some know me for my song at TMC16. I suppose what I’m getting at here is my “membership” is constantly in a state of quantum uncertainty. At least in my mind.

As such, for this debate, I see myself as the guy on the sidelines, watching all this happen. To that end, I’ve tried to assemble a set of all posts on the #MTBoS versus #ITeachMath debate, and you can find that at the very end. For further reading. I’m sure I missed some people. You cannot include everybody, much as you try.

So, what do I mean, “you cannot include everybody”?

Let’s start by going right for the jugular. I’m sure there’s some Trump supporters out there with great math teaching ideas, how inclusive is the MTBoS community to them?

I hate getting political, but it’s hard to ignore that stuff right now, even for this Canadian. Follow a hashtag, more can spill through. As a writer, it’s strongly recommended not to let politics or religion into your social media, it tends to automatically cut out part of your audience. As an educator, well, we do our best.

Okay, let me back off for a bit more context. Our society is a piece of this.


Thing is, we see politics a LOT more in marketing these days. Brands needing to take a stand. A lot are really fearful of promoting one way or the other, because sure, they MIGHT gain 50 to 5,000 new followers, but they WILL lose at least 500, and can they afford to do that? So, presumably, they test pilot this stuff. Do a focus group before the “big announcement”.

Well, live and learn. Here’s where we seem to be at. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Part of the trouble with “MTBoS” is that it excludes people who find the name inscrutable, and/or they equate it (and conversations) with the group being cliquish, or only valid for people who blog, or something similar. Part of the trouble with “ITeachMath” is that it excludes people who teach things like science, or who are administrators/coaches, or who do teach math but want to promote their math-related comic that’s unrelated to teaching*. Part of the trouble with “ITeachMath” as a welcome mat to “MTBoS” is the massive implication that there IS a gateway, oh God, no, no, that was not meant to be a thing. Awkward.

(* - To be fair, I don’t always tag the comic with MTBoS either, nor does another math comic creator I know.)

There’s an online show I watch on Monday nights, it looks at news articles where people were not thinking clearly. One of the things that keeps coming up (along with “don’t try to access your house through your chimney”) is “run your marketing by a five year old”. If that five year old starts laughing for no good reason, maybe rethink your slogan. Of more relevance here, companies need to run their product by women, by minority groups, by more than a “majority of people who agree with me”, otherwise you get bizarre “fails” like the following:
It's a pool flotation device.

Hope that got a chuckle. So, in my opinion? The trouble the MTBoS finds itself in now, August 2017, is that (ignoring whether the new hashtag is better or worse), things feel fragmented. Some went “well, that makes sense, about damn time” while others went “wait, we’re still in focus groups, we have data too” and emotions quickly beat out logic, in no small part due to the time of year. In the process of gaining people, we lost others, which frankly seems to be a theme whenever anyone takes a stand on anything of late.

Would anything have ever come of the focus groups? Does a new tag really make sense? Do hurt feelings sting more in 2017?

I don’t pretend to have those answers, and this whole post is somewhat “stream of consciousness”, but let’s talk about that other relevant piece of this “inclusive” puzzle: Social Structure. (Anything to get away from politics. Oh wait, dammit...)


For the most part, we are not very happy with top-down structures lately. There’s a lot of grass roots movements, groups of people with no clear leader, who are punching upwards at “the establishment”. The powerful thing about a group not having a clear leader, you have no direct target for naysayers, and I blogged about that and cliqueness in 2013 before the “white privilege” issue really came centre stage.

Consider, when you’re the only Black/Gay/FirstNations/etc person in a room, somehow what you do tends to reflect on that larger community, even though you probably didn’t ask to be a spokesperson. I suspect that becomes even more obvious if it’s a LARGE room (world?) of cis whites, versus a small group of 3 or 4 people. (I say “I suspect”, because I’m a married white male. What the hell do I know.) Now, this isn’t about diversity (yet), bear with me.

In a writing critique group of six, everyone can be heard, and is more or less on equal footing. Once we get to 25 or 30 people, we need someone to manage the situation, and this is how classrooms work. (Even a teacher who lets groups of students do their own thing has imposed that structure, and needs to consolidate the knowledge.) Once groups get even larger, minority voices in the room (along with new voices) start to get drowned out, unless (perhaps even despite) there being a manager/teacher figure in play.

Two obvious problems. First, the manager becomes part of the top-down structure that we don’t like, already irritating individuals. Second, the manager’s workload goes up, and unless they’re able to make a conscious effort to elevate ALL minority voices, it’s more a bandage than a fix.

So, the MTBoS has no such top-down structure. That is its power. And its pitfall.

In much the same way that the lone gay person in the room didn’t ask to be the spokesperson for all gays, the one person with the loudest voice (aka most followers) in the room didn’t ask to become an MTBoS manager. But there they are. Because we hear them.

I’m not saying they dictate policy, though they may need to triple think before they “push send”, so to speak. Their voices are more likely to trigger a movement. Because ALL THE FEELS.

I’m not only talking about Dan Meyer there, I’m talking about other loud voices who responded to him, and I’m talking about society outside the MTBoS. I’m also trying not to make a judgement about who is right to send what messages when, or who isn’t -- honestly, I’m trying to remove the emotional component from this, which is damn hard to achieve. I arranged my posts below by ‘date of publishing’ for a reason, the same reason I waited a week to put this post out. Early messages are more charged.

We’re human. We screw up. We apologize. We forgive. We move on.

But AS we move on, we cannot forget. We need to learn from whatever happened.

And I’m saying one thing we need to learn here is that you cannot include everybody. So, back to that.


Ignoring politics, there’s the fact that personalities clash. Yes, I BLEEP myself on social media, despite swearing in real life, so excessive swearing is a strike for me. Others may draw a firm line at religious differences, common core, or at whether you use algebra tiles. I don’t know, we all have triggers.

Sometimes, you can’t work around those triggers.

Astute people will realize that all these different people can be at the same conference, thus “included” in the same room, but I say fragmentation will occur. Pushing it further, devouts may say “I won’t ever be in the same room with...", and one could argue we don’t want an inclusive group to include such “racists” anyway. Fine, I’d counter that you’re right, but it means part of the conversation is then ABSENT. It’s VERY important to acknowledge that it’s still out there in the community. Somewhere. Possibly gnashing it’s teeth. (Because really, algebra tiles?)

If we no longer hear them, how do we include them?

There’s also the fact that even when interests DO mesh, people may not synergize (for lack of a better word). To use myself as an example, I occasionally do math music parodies. (It’s what I presented on at TMC13.) At TMC16, I was invited into the singing group. Which was awesome, but their form of creativity, it somehow didn’t work for me. They made every effort, but in the end, I had to choose between a rehearsal, or my comic, and I chose the latter. (I love my math personifying that has four readers after six years... I’m crazy.)

Now, I’m more unsettled after telling that story, because up to this point, I could pretend I’ve been ‘inside’ the MTBoS punching ‘out’. (“You can’t come in, you’re different!”) Whereas that tale starts to feel a bit like me being ‘outside’ and punching ‘in’. (“Why am I not part of the thing?”) And I’ve made it out like the problem is me, which is semi-true, but not the whole story. It’s more about perspectives.

Sorry, let’s back up again.

Jimmy Pai already wrote a fabulous post about “Belonging is Hard”, so I won’t retread that ground. Suffice to say, ‘belonging’ means something different for everyone, go read his take on that.

New scenario: In a group of five people, one person really wants pizza, but the other four are keen on thai food, so all five go to the thai restaurant. Does that fifth person feel like their voice was not heard? Does that fifth person feel happy to have been included at all? How will they feel about it if the same thing happens again next week?

We seem to be putting the onus on the one who “doesn’t quite fit” to figure things out, to speak loud enough to be heard about his/her preference. To “@ someone on the hashtag”, to reach for a Twitter analogy. It doesn’t work, because when you’re feeling depressed or excluded, the last thing you want to do is feel like you’re unloading your problems onto someone else... assuming pizza person even does feel that way in the first place. (We know whomever they speak to wouldn’t feel unloaded upon, again, it’s perspectives.)

There’s a quote I seriously overuse from Star Trek: TNG. In “Ethics”, Worf has broken his back, which for a Klingon means suicide, even as a new, risky medical procedure would restore full mobility. Crusher’s advocating conventional therapy instead, and Picard says this:
“Beverly, he can't make the journey you're asking of him. You want him to go from contemplating suicide to accepting his condition and living with the disability, but it's too far. The road between covers a lifetime of values, beliefs... He can't do it, Beverly. But perhaps he can come part of the way.”

The idea of a spreadsheet for people to monitor the MTBoS hashtag on a particular day (which came as a result of this), is good. It’s coming part of the way. Maybe a new hashtag is also part of the way. But individuals still need to close that distance from the other side. The twist is, nobody can tell them how to do that, because it’s different for everyone. A different day, a different mood, any number of things could affect whether the person feels included or not.

Meaning YOU cannot include everybody. It’s equally their move.

Oh, MTBoS tries. But individuals need to meet them. This is that place of caring that I mentioned at the top of the post, and if it helps, know that I suck at this. Most days, I can’t cross the bridge. I can’t @ someone to save my life, because the math I do is so out of the mainstream that I might as well be asking for opinions about wearing cheese slices on my forehead. “So Sine is a black president? Um. Okay.” (If anyone else feels adrift that way, btw, feel free to @ me. Solidarity.)

Should I expect a community to change for my tastes? No. But it’s time to look at what happens when many individuals feel similarly. It becomes, don’t change for me, do it for those crying out for help.

Is “pizza person” about to quit the group or the profession entirely? That needs attention. Do they have a groundbreaking new idea and are desperate for feedback? Amplify that. Oh, and when you visualized the five people, were they all white? What if I say the pizza person was also the only one from a minority group? Does that one fact matter to you as they all have thai food again? Should it?

Where do you start with all this?


I’m going to quote from Dan Meyer here, a talk he gave at OAME 2014, about “Fake World Math”. At one point, he spoke about Ken Feinberg, known as “Death’s Accountant”. After a horrible tragedy (mass hospitalization, loss of life, etc) it’s this ONE PERSON’S job to decide ‘Who Gets What’ in terms of the aid money that pours in. How do you decide something like that?

What does that even mean for MTBoS?

Well, how does the community need to grow and evolve in 2017? Targeting new teachers. And seasoned teachers doing PD. Minorities. People we may not even hear. More Elementary/Middle School. People who find the name exclusive. People who are slowly drifting away. Math Coaches and administrators. People who don’t like tech.

You CAN’T pick everybody on that list, resources are FINITE. The resource of time, in particular, which seems doubly hard to find in the teaching profession. So, last week, Dan Meyer inadvertently made the “Ken Feinberg” decision. I feel that’s what launched the debate. Because the implication was “this solves the problem”, when all it does is illuminate all those the bigger issues.

Oh, Ken Feinberg’s still in the news, by the way. Here’s an article where he says he “sees himself as an average citizen, and says what he does is not rocket science”. But what is a challenge is “when victims compare their compensation to others”. That, he grants, is emotional.

Emotions really do put a cramp into statistics these days. It’s why arguments of “what numbers do I need to have to convince you I’m right” don’t work. (Am I allowed one cheap shot? Well, I took it, I’m human.) Also, for any who don’t know about it, look up the “Backlash Effect”.

In summary? As teachers, as HUMANS, we want to help everybody, we want everybody who desires help to get whatever they need, whatever they feel they’re due. Yet we have no leader to decide what that even means, plus perception problems, plus finite resources in this day and age. Conclusion? It hurts to hear, it hurts to say.

You. Cannot. Include. Everybody.

Hell, TMC is the poster child for that phrase, given the need to cap attendance. It’s symptomatic of the bigger issue. And that is not a failing. THAT IS LIFE. So, what’s the answer, what’s the path forwards, what do we focus on?


Yeah, that’s all I’ve got. I am 100% certain that, by the end of the year, there will be two interlocking circles on the Venn diagram, one for each tag. MTBoS now has an ITeachMath splinter group. But that doesn’t mean the community’s in two camps, or make it less amazing. There have always been interlocking circles. There’s tons of hashtag subgroups.

And hey, if we combine all the tags, is it possible we have the broader community without the need for a central hashtag? Was this the first step towards a de-centralization in tags, the way the community itself is de-centralized? Have we found a new writers critique group?

Still no answers here. But some of the other posts below have floated proposals or opinions. Read those, draw your own conclusions. SOMETHING had to be done... this was something... was it the right thing? Where do we go from here?

Time marches on, social networks evolve, as does society, as does the MTBoS. I’ll keep lurking (sorry, no, observing) and doing a math comic. I will now drink coffee and stare you down across the table.


Okay, I hate coffee, but that was a lead in to this song by Sara Bareilles, which you’re welcome to listen to as you peruse the posts. (I find music helps me, but hey, that’s my opinion.) Thanks for hearing me out, pretty sure I annoyed people on all sides, comments welcome.


July 27th.
o Let’s Retire #MTBoS [as an INTRODUCTION to Math Teacher Twitter] (Dan Meyer, revised Jul 31)
o Long Live the MTBoS (Fawn Nguyen)
o Labelling the #MTBoS (Nat Banting - Google Doc includes twitter links)

July 28th.
o ITeachMath & I belong in MTBoS (Brianne Beebe)

July 29th.
o Your opinion of MTBoS has more to do with you (Kate Nowak)
o MTBoS or iteachmath - Change is hard (for me)  (Mardalee Burwitz)
o On Sorta Being Part of the MTBoS (WWNDTD)
o On Structuring Our Community To Increase Belonging (Harry O’Malley):
o A solution (maybe) to mtbos/iteachmath echo chamber dilemma (Jason Slowbe)

July 30th.
o MTBoS vs iteachmath Debate (Ethan Weker)

July 31st.
o ITeachMathLearners (John Golden)
o TMC17 reflection (Grace Chen)
o Do Better. A response to Dan Meyer’s post (Anne Schwartz, revised Aug 1)

Aug 1st.
o I’ve Gotten All Twitterfied Again, Thanks to the Debate (Jackie Stone)

Aug 2nd.
o Making the Leap: From Lurker to Participant (Jenn White)

Aug 3rd.
o Okay, fine, mtbos is a club. We want you to be in it (Taylor Belcher)

Aug 4th.
o I belong. Thoughts about MTBoS and iTeachMath. (Jimmy Pai)


  1. Thank you for posting this. It is helpful to read your well thought out position, as well as the resources you compiled. Thank you!

    1. Very welcome, thank you for responding, Glenn! Sometimes I feel I overthink. I even had my wife read this one over before posting, wondering if I was being too unfeeling (and if that was hypocritical, given my stance that emotions are tied up in it). I'm glad it's been of use.

      As to the compiled resources, that was mostly me trying to see the varied perspectives through the week, which I included here by reasoning, "might as well highlight people closer to the subject". I organize data, it's a skill. ^.^ Thanks again for the comment.

  2. Thanks for writing this up, Greg. I think historically you've had a lot of empathy for people on the margins of the #MTBoS and you represent their perspective well for people who feel very close to the fire, by contrast.

    "You cannot include everybody" really begs a definition of "include." If it signifies a feeling of collegiality that's felt equivalently across everyone in a community, then definitely not. It isn't possible. That feeling correlates with participation and we're going to participate inequally.

    I'm shooting quite a bit lower, though. I want every teacher to know that their perspective is of value here to somebody. Even edu Trump supporters can find an affinity group in math teacher twitter. And, especially, that this is a place where anyone can receive a large or small nudge forward towards solving their problem of practice. Just tweet your question. Resources and community will follow.

    By that definition of "include", with sufficient resources and some important strategic decisions, it is possible to include everybody.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment, Dan. I appreciate the thoughts, both here and in my random tweets. I feel like I'm in the curious (unique?) place of not joining Twitter for education purposes... and if that helps me give some voice/perspective on #MTBoS margins, I'm pleased, though I suspect not always representative. Anyway.

      You make fair points. "Include" is very strongly linked to "feelings", and that is largely what I had in mind throughout. I feel like what you're describing in your aim is more "support", with an ability for people get feedback or some form of shared understanding. Not as charged a word, or issue. It may, indeed, even be achievable, resources often being the problem, and people are devoting time and effort to the cause right now. I hope more out there are feeling supported as a result.

      Two points I want to address though. Both related to your phrase above, "I want every teacher...", and looking at that idea of charged words.

      First, "teacher". The new hashtag would seem to drop barriers as far as teachers of math are concerned... but the math community is necessarily more than that. In part because "math" is bigger than "physics". Hell, I'd argue that "math" is bigger than "science", because at least science has pockets recognized by a majority of people (in secondary particularly), versus math being seen as... well, "math" throughout. And part of teachers getting support in a math community comes from others being in the community. Perspectives from outside the classroom and so forth. And I know you addressed this in your post, but what makes me wonder here is how the "teacher" signpost remains foremost in your thought processes even now (re: "math teacher twitter").

      Second, "I want". We all have wants and desires. Some are more selfless than others. And kudos to you for stepping up and making apologies where needed as this rolled out, recognizing feelings and desires of others. But somehow, not "I want", but rather "I would like" feels like the necessary mental step back in a de-centralized community. "Want" (to me) is needed more when you're talking to people on the outside, people you need to convince, people who may not listen otherwise. "Would like" conveys less "do this for me" and more "do this with me", which is important when you're already seen as an authority.

      I recognize it's hard when you're seen by so many, and I'm not going to pretend I'm any better with words. (An inability to communicate may even explain my readership woes.) Summing up then, "include" may be the wrong word; I don't even remember if anyone's specifically used it, though if they have, perhaps they also need to reflect. But all words shape our perspectives of others, and ourselves. Maybe that's food for thought.

      Thanks again for taking the time to comment! All the best.