1+1=Justice: The return of equity math
Yes, believe it or not, the ideological wars can be brought to the teaching of mathematics.? So argues a professor of education at the University of Delaware School of Education, Tonya Bartell, in an article she's written for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:? Learning to Teach Mathematics for Social Justice: Negotiating Social Justice and Mathematical Goals.? According to the abstract,
This article describes teachers' collective work aimed at learning to teach mathematics for social justice. A situated, sociocultural perspective of learning guides this examination of teachers' negotiation of mathematical goals and social justice goals as they developed, implemented, and revised lessons for social justice.
In fact, as Stern has written, teaching social justice through math is a well-practiced craft among certain mathematics teachers.?? Eric Gutstein, a Marxist education professor at the University of Illinois and also a full-time Chicago public-school math teacher, wrote Reading and Writing the World with Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice a while ago (Routledge, 2006)? The work combines, says Stern, "critical pedagogy theory (which depicts the United States as an evil nation rife with injustice) and real-life math lessons that Gutstein piloted with his predominantly minority seventh-grade students."
The question is, do kids learn any math?? Here's what Ms. Bartell writes,
Education is intricately linked to economic, political, and social power structures in society that serve to perpetuate inequity in both schools and society (Apple, 1992; Kozol, 2005)
I love the term ?intricately linked.? At first blush, the reader might read that as ?intimately linked? or even ?inherently linked.?? But ?intricately??? What isn't intricately linked to everything else? And what does that have to do with teaching math? Writes Bartell,
Considering these structures in relation to education and the call for equity in mathematics entails a shift from thinking about preparing students to live within the world, as it currently exists, to thinking about preparing students to restructure ?those social systems . . . in order to remove barriers that women, minorities, and others experience? (Secada, 1989)
Thus, mathematics education faces a two-fold imperative: to provide students with mathematics instruction that includes the mathematics deemed necessary for success in the current system while simultaneously providing students an opportunity to use mathematics to expose and confront obstacles to their success (Guti?rrez, 2002; Gutstein, 2003; Martin, 2003; Tate, 1994, 1995).
Is it any wonder that American students can't do math?? ?On average US students place 32nd in the world in math, following Portugal,? reports Education Next. ?The best state, Massachusetts, is only 9th in the world; the most populous state (California) comes in 37th.? (Read the full story, by Paul E. Peterson, Carlos Xabel Lastra-Anad?n, Eric A. Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann? here.)
Is it social justice for legions of American kids to not be taught basic math? ?Why is it that we still have to argue about this?
--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow
Category: Curriculum & Instruction
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About the Editor
Peter Meyer is an adjunct fellow with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Since 1991, Meyer has focused his attentions on education reform in the United States, an interest joined while writing a profile of education reformer E.D. Hirsch for Life. Meyer subsequently helped found a charter school, served on his local Board of Education (twice) and, for the last eight years, has been an editor at Education Next.
June 13, 2013
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