Occasional Paper Series #41

Re-designing Mathematics Education for Social Justice: A Vision

by Fahmil Shah

When setting standards and creating mathematics curricula, policymakers and curriculum designers must make choices about what kinds of mathematics are included in our state or national standards as well as in our textbooks. A persistent question in the field of mathematics education is why and how these choices are made, to which there does not appear to be any clear, consistent answer (Harouni, 2015). However, a recent movement within the mathematics education community has shifted the conversation about the purpose and goals of school mathematics. Professional organizations, including the Association of Mathematics Teacher Educators (AMTE), the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM), TODOS: Mathematics for ALL (TODOS), and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), have begun highlighting equity and social justice as top priorities within the field (AMTE, 2015, 2016; NCSM/TODOS, 2016; NCTM, 2012). The emphasis on social justice as a key aspect of teaching mathematics is now being considered both as a priority of professional organizations and as a focus of conferences within the field. This movement, described by some as a sociopolitical turn, has pushed mathematics education in the 21st century into a new era (Gutierrez, 2013; Stinson & Bullock, 2012), focusing school mathematics on social and political issues and solutions.

Despite these exciting changes, some critics have expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of school mathematics as a tool to illuminate and address issues of social justice (Martin, 2013). In alignment with Martin’s argument that current efforts have not effectively challenged current power structures in society, I will consider issues of equity and social justice through a historical and political framework in order to articulate why mathematics cannot (in its current form) complete the sociopolitical turn. Furthermore, I will suggest directions for school mathematics and educational policy that can increase the effectiveness of current efforts in critical mathematics (Frankenstein, 1983, 2009; Stinson & Bullock, 2012) and social justice pedagogy (Gutstein, 2006) to tackle relevant social and political issues.

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About the Author

Famil ShahFahmil Shah is a doctoral student at Boston University. He also teaches mathematics and mathematics education courses at the university level. His research interests include equity in mathematics education and mathematics teacher retention and his current work investigates the role of support networks in novice mathematics teacher retention.