Prof urges math teachers to adopt 'social justice pedagogies'

A professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago is encouraging others to teach “math for social justice” to help fight the “oppressive status quo” in the United States. 

The Struggle is Pedagogical: Learning To Teach Critical Mathematics” was penned by Professor Eric Gutstein, who writes in a new textbook that the time is nigh for social justice math considering the “racist and sexist billionaire in the White House.” 

Gutstein, who notes that he once taught a “math for social justice” class at the Social Justice High School in Chicago, argues that teaching “critical mathematics” isn’t an option for math teachers, but rather, a “responsibility to our future.”

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“We are in an historical period that challenges us to action in ways that we probably cannot fully understand,” Gutstein asserts. 

“Teaching in critical ways is not optional in the present juncture. We have a responsibility to our future and our planet, to life and all species,” he adds. “What we do in the classroom matters, for today and tomorrow, and the myriad possibilities for resistance and transformation are inextricably and dialectically related to the intensity of the crises we face.”

Reflecting on his longstanding commitment to social justice, Gutstein laments that he has had difficulties converting other math teachers into vectors of “social justice pedagogies” to promote “revolutionary” and “radical” teachings. 

Traditional mathematics education, he complains, “is not sufficient and does not address many issues” necessary to “critical mathematics.” 

“For example, how does one shift contexts from ostensibly apolitical ones to those that are explicitly political (assuming one’s mathematics teaching is contextualized at all)?” he asks. “How does a teacher know what contexts to choose? How to teach about them in ways that bring community wisdom into the experience?”

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While Gutstein did not immediately reply to an inquiry on what “critical mathematics” refers to, he did co-author the 2015 book Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by The Numbers, in which he asserts that math classes can help students to “deepen their understanding of important social issues, such as racism and sexism, as well as ecology and social class.”

Now, Gutstein teaches aspiring educators at the University of Illinois-Chicago. 

“In my work, I argue that K-12 students need to be prepared through their mathematics education to investigate and critique injustice (such as racism and language discrimination), and to challenge, in words and actions, oppressive structures and acts,” he explains on his faculty biography, adding that “I prepare teachers who can teach mathematics and other subjects in this manner to students in urban settings.”

His new publication, “The Struggle is Pedagogical” was published in the 2018 textbook The Philosophy of Mathematics Education Today, which also includes contributions on topics such as math for “environmental sustainability,” as well as another on “cultural obstacles” minorities face in learning math. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen