Math is 'unjust and grounded in discrimination,' educators moan
Two national mathematics organizations are on a mission to prove that math education is “unjust and grounded in a legacy of institutional discrimination.”
The National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and TODOS: Mathematics for All “ratify social justice as a key priority in the access to, engagement with, and advancement in mathematics education for our country’s youth,” the groups declared last year in a joint statement, elaborating that “a social justice stance interrogates and challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics education—and in society as a whole.”
Next month, NCSM and TODOS, along with a few other membership societies for math teachers, will host a free webinar drawing upon the principals noted in their joint statement, inviting any interested members of the public to join in hearing “A Call for a Collective Action to Develop Awareness: Equity and Social Justice in Mathematics Education.”
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The president of NCSM, Connie Schrock, is a math professor at Emporia State University, and multiple professors serve on the board of TODOS.
While the organizations hope that math can be used as a tool for social justice in the future, they also believe that math has historically perpetuated “segregation and separation,” asserting in their joint statement that “mathematics achievement, often measured by standardized tests, has been used as a gatekeeping tool to sort and rank students by race, class, and gender starting in elementary school.”
Citing the practice of “tracking,” in which pupils are sorted by academic ability into groups for certain classes, NCSM and TODOS argue that “historically, mathematics and the perceived ability to learn mathematics have been used to educate children into different societal roles such as leadership/ruling class and labor/working class leading to segregation and separation.”
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“In practice, children placed in ‘low’ groups experience mathematics as an isolating act consisting of fact-driven low cognitive demand tasks and an absence of mathematics discourse opportunities,” the statement contends, attributing the condition to “a pervasive misguided belief that students must ‘master the basics’ prior to engaging with complex problems [sic] solving.”
The groups also bemoan the “white and middle class” workforce of math teachers, fretting that it may not appropriately “reflect” the demographics of the communities in which they teach, such as immigrant or racial minority communities.
Social justice could be the key to solving these issues, they say, calling on math teachers to assume a “social justice stance” that “challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics.”
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NCSM and TODOS even provided detailed strategies that math teachers can use to promote social justice, such as advocating for increased “recruitment and retention of math teachers from historically marginalized groups” and challenging “individual and societal beliefs underlying the deficit views about mathematics learning and children, with specific attention to race/ethnicity, class, gender, culture, and language.”
But social justice work is nothing without accountability, they warn, declaring that “we must hold the profession and our organizations accountable to making a just and equitable mathematics education a sustainable reality.”
Campus Reform reached out to NCSM and TODOS for more information. TODOS did not reply, and NCSM President Connie Schrock declined to schedule an interview.
Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen