Profs: Math classes 'inaccessible and oppressive' to students

A group of professors argues in a newly-published book that math teachers must “live out social justice commitments” to fight privilege in the classroom.

The professors made the argument in a new anthology for math teachers, jointly authored by a trio of Mathematics Education professors: Pennsylvania State University’s Andrea McCloskey, Kennesaw State University Professor Brian Lawler, and Ohio State University Professor Theodore Chao.

Math teachers, “must learn how to advocate for students, self-examine for biases, and strategically subvert the system in which they teach to counteract student oppression,” the professors argue, adding that the development of “political knowledge” is key.

To do this, the professors spell out several recommendations for math teachers, such as finding “strategies for disrupting current mathematics education norms” and developing “a critical orientation towards mathematics.”

[RELATED: Prof: Algebra, geometry perpetuate white privilege]

Math teachers should also be especially critical of so-called “discourses of education,” such as claims that “schools are failing,” since these discourses can serve to reify privilege at the expense of minority and underprivileged students, the authors note.

This is especially necessary considering the state of mathematics classrooms, which they argue can be “inaccessible and oppressive” for students who don’t have the “privilege and power” of mathematics professors, for whom the subject is far less difficult.

While the professors concede that integrating social justice into a math class can be difficult, they note that even “minor” adjustments can help, adding that “any amount of connection to issues of equity, diversity, social justice, and power is better than none at all.”

[RELATED: Prof laments ‘insidiousness of silence and whiteness’ in academia]

They are similarly optimistic about the recent rise of math-related academic organizations taking on the cause of social justice.

For example, they praise the recent joint statement published by TODOS: Mathematics for All, and the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, which brings attention to the “current unjust system of mathematics education—and in society as a whole.”

The new anthology, “Building Support for Scholarly Methods in Mathematics,” is the same book that published a chapter by Rochelle Gutierrez, who argued that algebra and geometry can perpetuate white privilege.

As Campus Reform reported last week, Gutierrez worries that “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

Campus Reform reached out to the professors for comment, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

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