The educational outcomes of African American male students have been explored by several scholars. What has been lacking, however, is an examination of the role of spirituality and religion as it pertains to the educational experiences of African American male students, especially those who have been successful along the mathematics continuum. In this article, the author explores the influences of spirituality and religion on the educational outcomes of four academically successful African American male graduate students in mathematics and mathematics education. Additionally, the author presents a critical analysis of his own experiences as an African American scholar with spiritual underpinnings. Recommendations and implications are posited concerning a more nuanced approach to intertwining the role of spirituality and religion and academic success.
Keywords: spirituality, African American males, mathematics
In the 22nd chapter of the book of Saint Matthew, Jesus tells the parable of the marriage feast (Matthew 22:1-14, King James Version). The parable relates that a certain king is preparing a marriage for his son and sends his servants out to gather the townspeople for the event. In the midst of the crowd, the king sees a man without proper wedding attire and sends him away. The parable concludes by Jesus making reference to the feet that many are called or invited, but only the chosen ones will come (i.e., the ones who have received Christ). Furthermore, the overarching message it that individuals who seek to "come" to Christ without the proper garments, symbolic to those seeking to enter the kingdom of God without a relationship to Christ, will be cast away.
As this author reflected on African American spirituality and its relationship to academic achievement, this parable immediately came to mind. Although different religious traditions interpret this passage of scriptures differently, one way of considering this parable is presented. Moreover, I liken this parable to the experiences of African American male students in mathematics. In the context of the mathematics classroom, the king would be synonymous with the mathematics teacher. As the king in the parable made sure that all the invited guests had on the proper garments, the mathematics teacher is charged with ensuring that mathematics students have on the proper mathematics garments. Mathematics garments can be viewed as critical mathematical skills that are used to liberate students, expose students to inequities, and assist students with overturning injustices (see, e.g., Leonard, 2009; Martin, 2009; Stinson, 2004 for a more detailed account). Also, the man in the parable who did not have on the proper garments was not allowed access to the marriage feast. With mathematics, oftentimes, the students who are purported for not having on the proper garments in the mathematics classroom are African American and male. That is, African American male students are not allowed access to mathematics because they are often viewed as lacking the necessary skills to engage in mathematical discourse even though they might exhibit their strengths through other venues such as their spirituality.
Research suggests that many African American male students enter educational terrains with garments on mat seem to work counter to academic achievement in general and mathematics achievement in particular (see, e.g., Berry, 2008; Martin, 2000; Stinson, 2008 for exceptions). Despite these research findings, there are, however, some African American male students who have access to the appropriate garments to succeed academically. Additionally, some of these African American male students enter academic spaces with garments on that lend themselves to a spiritual connection. For the purposes of this article, these students are referred to as the chosen ones. In this article, the successful experiences of these mathematics students who possess a spiritual kinship are highlighted. …