Two prominent national mathematics organizations are calling for more social justice in math, arguing that math as it stands now is both “unjust” and “grounded in a legacy of institutional discrimination.”
The organizations, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and TODOS: Mathematics for All are calling for the ratification of “social justice as a key priority in the access to, engagement with, and advancement in mathematics education for our country’s youth,” adding in a joint statement released last year 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.”
The NCSM and TODOS are set to host a free webinar, entitled A Call for a Collective Action to Develop Awareness: Equity and Social Justice in Mathematics Education next month to explore some of these issues further.
According to Campus Reform,
“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.’
‘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.'”
NCSM and TODOS suggest employing 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” in order to promote social justice.