Occasional Paper Series

Issue 41: Critical Mathematical Inquiry

Child playing legosIntroduction:
Teaching for Social Justice through Critical Mathematical Inquiry

Steven Greenstein and Mark Russo

Mathematics education, like all disciplines of learning, sits within larger fields of social, cultural, and political beliefs and practices. As we think about the range of these beliefs and practices, we can imagine a linear spectrum of teaching, including mathematics teaching, with each point on the spectrum representing a set of often unacknowledged assumptions about the nature of teachers, students, knowledge, and authority.

At one end of this spectrum, imagine traditional, lecture-based teaching. Teachers are positioned as the knowledgeable ones, and students are positioned as compliant recipients of that knowledge. Teachers act with authority, and students are acted upon. This is where many of us spent most of our time when we were students in school.

Moving toward the other end of the spectrum, teaching becomes more oriented to inquiry. Pedagogy is informed by the tenets of a constructivist theory of learning, which assumes that we are not blank slates. Nor is knowledge passively received. Instead, learning is understood as a constructive process. As we wander the world and engage with it, we construct new knowledge as we make sense of and organize our experiences.

This model of knowing and learning calls for a pedagogy that immerses learners in experiences that support them to figure out—by thinking and reasoning, and reflecting upon their own thinking and reasoning—how to make sense of these experiences. It is an inquiry pedagogy, which recognizes existing knowledge as the basis for new learning and which is oriented to learners as knowers. Knowledge, then—cultural, conceptual, experiential, and linguistic knowledge—is regarded as a resource for learning. This is the interval of the pedagogical spectrum in which we, the readers of the Occasional Paper Series, begin to do our work.

Read the Full Essay Full PDF of OPS #41

Guest Editors

Mark RussoMark Russo is the district supervisor of mathematics and computer science for the Pascack Valley Regional High School District in Montvale, NJ and an adjunct professor at Montclair State University. He is interested in promoting equity in schools, supporting effective mathematics teaching and learning, and helping students experience the beauty and power of mathematics and statistics. He is currently exploring the development of algebraic reasoning in computer science and the utilization of quantitative reasoning through interdisciplinary connections between statistics and social studies (SASS).

Steven GreensteinSteven Greenstein is an Associate Professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Montclair State University. He enjoys thinking about mathematical things… and how people think about mathematical things. Through his work, he aims to democratize access to authentic mathematical activity that honors the diversity of learners’ mathematical thinking, that is both nurturing of and nurtured by intellectual agency, and that is guided by self-directed inquiry, mathematical play, and the having of wonderful ideas.