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As educators, we have exclusive access to students at their most impressionable time of their lives. With this, we are able to teach them more than just the content of our department, but to prepare them for real life situations and to expose them to ideas such as social justice. Social justice is seen everywhere from limited access to education and other resources to discrimination because of race and gender. There are many different opinions and perspectives on social justice and diversity and how they relate. Also, social justice is an idea that is seen in many countries and through international collaboration, we are able to learn from others and grow in the field of mathematics as well as social justice. The purpose of this paperâ€¦?
Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice
Teaching for social justice does not just allow the students to have a deeper understanding about the mathematics. It gives them the valuable tools needed to be an active citizen in today's society. Skovsmose (2005) describes this idea as "Education in mathematics is also a preparation for consuming. There has been considerable consideration of what it could mean to develop education in mathematics, not for a particular job function, but for citizenship" (p. 142). Without the necessary tools or mathematical knowledge people are not able to critically think about many decisions and situations in their daily life. In this sense, if people are not able to think critically then they will ultimately be left behind and excluded. Kincheloe and McLaren (2007) describe the importance of critical pedagogy to democracy as
"Democracy cannot work if citizens are not autonomous, self-judging and independent-qualities that are indispensable for students if they are going to make vital judgments and choices about participating in and shaping decisions that affect everyday life, institutional reform, and governmental policy. Hence, pedagogy becomes the cornerstone of democracy in that it provides the very foundation for students to learn not merely how to be governed, but also how to be capable of governing" (p. 3).
Through critical mathematics education the content will continue to be irrelevant, "unless students are moved to incorporate school information into their own lives, schooling will remain merely an unengaging rite of passage into adulthood." (Kincholoe & Steinberg, 1996, p. 174) This should be our main goal as teachers; to help students take the information that is given to them and to be able to relate it to their life and current situation.
In order to use mathematics as a tool for change toward social justice, students must first be empowered and given a voice. Stemhagen (2009) describes empowerment and agency as goals for education and
A necessary step toward social justice is helping children recognize that their voice matters. Real and lasting social change cannot come about until individuals realize the power that they possess. The mathematics class version of this is that they must develop mathematical agency. (p. 340)
I feel that teaching for these goals is the ultimate way of teaching for social justice and that there is more to a classroom than just teaching the content. If a change needs to be made, it needs to start with the children who will one day be adults. If we wait until students become adults to introduce concepts such as social justice, they will already have their opinion about it and it will be harder to change. If we start challenging the students with these critical thinking issues we are able to create students that are able to think differently and who are able to see the impact of the decisions that they make.
Most people look at mathematics as an absolute, neutral subject that is nothing more than numbers and letters. But what most do not realize is that nothing is ever really neutral and mathematics is definitely never neutral. Mathematics is essentially everywhere, but for most people that do not have a job that is seen as mathematical, may not even realize this. Stemhagen (2009) describes this as
There seems to be a similar divide between those who do or use mathematics professionally and those who do not. Furthermore, there is a similar lack of consideration as to how mathematics can alter our lives in ways more radical than simply existing as an instrumental aid to be intermittently used in a non-complicated manner. (p. 344)
By allowing students to gain consciousness at a young age, teachers are able to break molds of what mathematics means before they are even formed. It allows teachers to make the mathematics relevant and to really bring a change for social justice.
"International contacts in mathematics have a very long history that proceeded the era of globalization" (Atweh, 2009, p. 114). Since mathematics can be seen as a 'universal language', it is easier to speak between different nations. There has been an increase in studies done to compare different countries and their student achievement. These results have brought some speculation of biasness toward the host country that is doing the data collection. This biasness may be unintentional, but due to the vast differences it seems almost impossible to create a test that is unbiased to all countries and cultures. These results do provide each country with where they stand and how they compare to other countries. Atweh (2009) explains that the three main problems with international collaboration and testing as different motivations for collaboration, factors that prevent participation by some countries, negative effect on countries that are less powerful.
Atweh (2009) discusses two types of construction of social justice as distribution and recognition. According to Atweh (2009), "In education, distributive models of social justice are reflected in compensatory programs allocating designated resources for the disadvantaged" (p. 118). Also "to understand the struggles for social justice by a variety of groups, such as women, African Americans, and gay and lesbian people, feminist theorists posited a discourse of social justice based on the principle of recognition" (Atweh, 2009, p. 118). Although the simple meaning of these types distribution and recognition, is that of equity vs. diversity. Can you have both equity and diversity? Some say that we want everyone to have the same things, yet we want to recognize everyone's differences at the same time. Atweh discusses the use of both constructions and "by using the bi-dimensional model to understand both agendas can provide for a better understanding on the relationship between the two discourses" (p. 119).
My problems with teaching critical pedagogy and teaching for social justice are the demands from the government and with standardized testing that allow for comparison across the board. These pressures trickle down from the school board to the administration and then to the teachers because the performance on these tests dictate the funding that the school receives. This leads to mathematics curriculum that is based on 'teaching to the tests' and due to the amount of content covered, very little time to venture off path.
Another problem that can occur when trying to teach critical mathematics is that if the students have only been taught limited ways of mathematics with no application, then it could be difficult to see critical mathematics as an improved method because they prefer the way that have been taught; just enough to get the grades. The emphasis on grades and scores has diminished the effort to have critical education in the schools.
A question I have when thinking about critical pedagogy and mathematics education in general, is where does this change actually begin? Does it start with the teacher implementing one lesson at a time? Is it introduced in the teacher education program at the undergraduate, graduate and doctorate level? Does it begin in the elementary and middle schools or in the high schools? This, I believe, is one of the main constraints of changing the current methodologies. I believe that change has to happen from the ground up but at the same time, do we need to wait eleven years for the students that start to finish? If the students start being taught just the facts, then there will be an adjustment period when they are introduced to teaching for social justice and risk not being able to understand or comprehend. Also, there can be resistance from other teachers and co-workers due to the fact that they teach the way that they were taught and what has worked for them in the past. Teaching for social justice can be taught by a single teacher in a school, but it is more productive when this concept can be stretched across several subjects. Students can then see the relationship among all subjects and that "Mathematics is everywhere-if not on the scene, then behind the scene" (Skovsmose, 2005, p. 78).
Another difficult concept in mathematics education is how teachers ensure that each person receives the adequate amount of mathematics to help prepare them for their future. This type of thinking almost always dictates exclusion and inequality although there is a distinct mathematical difference between the job of an engineer and that of a journalist. So what is the balance of what knowledge is necessary and what is auxiliary? Because of the complex nature of mathematics in general it is impossible to know everything and there is a large portion that is irrelevant to the majority of people. So the goal of a teacher shouldn't be to teach students all there is to know but to teach them the skills to think critically about the situations that they are currently in.
Teaching for social justice and equity in the classroom has been a topic of educational discourse for some time now. As Davila and Appelbaum (2009) clearly state
Schools continue to be organized and structured to perpetuate inequality. More importantly, our children continue to be the products of this inequality. It is time for schools to change these inequalities through providing spaces of resistance, coupling the discourse of critique with that of possibility and helping teachers play their role as transformative intellectuals who witness the urgency in teaching for social justice. (p. 389)
It has been studied at both a national and international level and many people have written on the results. But the bottom line is that teachers want best for their students and have the power to change the world for the better. This type of change is not going to be posted all over the headline news and tabloids but it can be seen in the lives of their students as they continue to grow. As the balance of both diversity and equity is one of the main goals in education, teachers can use mathematics as a source of empowerment and as an agency for social change.