Social justice in mathematics
Table of Contents
The modern day world is unequal….unequal in terms of power, opportunities, access to resources and so on. Education is embedded in that unequal system and within that an educational curriculum based on transmitting received knowledge which is epistemologically oppressive. Students are not encouraged to depend on their own life experiences but rather to refute it and replace it with the knowledge and experience of ‘experts’, through a hierarchical and competitive epistemology which undermines the validity of their own knowledge (Gerdes, 1985; Giroux, 1983). It gives no opportunity nor platform for challenging the (unequal) status quo. The old transmission model of teaching, in a traditional formal classroom environment is diametrically opposite of what we require to produce learners who can think critically, synthesise and transform, analyse, experiment and create. We need a flexible curriculum, active cooperative forms of learning, and opportunities for pupils to discuss, debate and talk through the knowledge which they are exposed to (Gipps, 1993, p. 40). An alternative mathematical epistemology is based on the principle that mathematics is “co-constructed” (Cobb et al., 1992, p. 573) by teachers and students, a product of the thoughts of many humans and, consequently influenced by all present. It is an epistemic strategy “not based on any claims about ultimate truth … not clothed in guarantees of any kind” (Restivo, 1983, p. 141). As a result, learner enquiry and the generation of understanding and meaning are valued and the focus shifts “from teacher delivery of ‘knowns’ to learner investigation of ‘unknowns’ (Burton, 1992, p. 2). This creates an atmosphere which allows the development of the capacity to be critical: it allows for the possibility of hope and the belief that things might be otherwise than as they are (Giroux, 1992). Many different interpretations exist for ‘teaching for social justice’ and can be attributed to and explained as “sliding signifiers” as postulated by Apple (1995). That is, the actual meaning of social justice teaching is multi-faceted having many different aspects and features. It is subject to many interpretations by various groups with differing agendas that are sometimes very different educationally and ideologically. Varying audiences, content, and goals affect an individual’s conception of teaching that is socially just, and various conceptions might limit the approaches toward equity and justice (Chubbuck & Zembylas 2008; North 2008). The conceptualisation of teaching mathematics for social justice draws mainly from Paulo Freire’s work who came up with a critical pedagogy that was aimed at forming a society where the humans have the ability to actively transform their society in order to make it better. According to Freire (1993, p. 30), “this pedagogy belonging to the people who are oppressed must be forged with the pedagogy for the individuals who are not oppressed… in the continuous struggle for regaining their humanity.” The purpose of social justice education is not to integrate the marginalized people into the existing society but instead to make changes to the society, so everyone is rightfully included. Therefore, education should assist students in analyzing oppression and criticising inequities by pointing out how these issues link to their lives and engaging them so as to challenge the structures that are inequitable (Bartell 2013). Although social justice education could be explained as a forthright endeavour to motivate students by expanding the pool of ‘real-world’ problems, the research literature theorizes the ambitions of social justice mathematics as teaching more ambitiously. Taking the stance that neither mathematics nor mathematics education are neutral activities and that exposure to mathematics education will not necessarily ensure equitable opportunity or provide a voice for all. Supporters of teaching and learning mathematics for social justice strive to broaden equity goals beyond significant mathematical learning for all groups and to embrace and generate of talents and abilities for fighting systemic oppression. (Bell 2007, p.1), “The goal of social justice is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs”.
Although the need for “creating mathematically literate citizens is rarely questioned by educators” (NCTM 2015, p141), there are different interpretations of the meaning of the term “mathematically literate citizens” which leads us to question the content of the mathematical curriculum and its validity. The literature of mathematics education outlines equity as a process of offering all students the opportunity of learning the academic, classical or the dominant mathematics, including specific norms, processes, and content (Gregson 2013). This includes the efforts of helping the students who are marginalized such as the students from low-income families, African and other students, in bridging their differences between their daily linguistic and cultural knowledge and the domain specific, dominant mathematics knowledge (Nasir, Hand, & Taylor, 2008). Moses & Cobb (2001) pointed out that the algebra project is an example that is frequently cited. The algebra project applies a curriculum driven by the common experiences of the students, pedagogy that was influenced W.V. Quine, who was a philosopher and also advanced mathematic problems.
The algebra project according to Moses et al (1989, pp. 438–439) is modelled on an approach of community organisation to educational innovation. The approach encompasses discussions by the community of the purposes of algebra and how students might gain access to the preparatory mathematics curriculum for the college. The major focus is on ‘dominant mathematics’ access through the distribution of the mathematical resources and goods that are equitably existing (Gresalfi et al 2008; Greeno & Hall 1997). Such presentations contradict the critical conceptions of equity that regard access but also addresses the social influence questions. That is how the relationship of the learners to mathematics and the relationship of mathematics to students is reflected in political, economic and social relations. From a critical standpoint, equitable mathematics education outcomes must include the capacity of navigating and reducing social inequity both despite and with the power of mathematics (Gregson 2011).
Darder et al (2003) asserted that the critical educators, who were typically outside of mathematics’ education, indicate that education should assist people in recognizing inequity as an outcome of economic and social relations that are created by humans that can be challenged. Based on the constructs of praxis and dialogue, critical education engages classroom social problems and utilities other examples beyond the classroom. Such educators regard knowledge as a socially mediated process that is ongoing that is simultaneously objective and subjective and always affected by power relations. Therefore, the people who take a critical standpoint towards education must necessarily grapple with issues of power and identity. This is also true in other domains including mathematics education (Gutiérrez 2013). For example, critical educators understand that the students who have been marginalized by social class or racism will not overcome their marginalization automatically by acquiring mathematics skills that are advanced. They need the ability to offer resistance and require more tools of analysis.
The critical literature on mathematics education advocates for assisting the students in confronting and applying mathematics in ways allowing them and the other students to achieve access to futures that are just and fair. The insight into how this work might be informed by the Freirean theory and is provided by Frankenstein (1987). Frankenstein applied co-investigations in statistics courses and dialogue in helping working class adults to understand statistics as a creation by humans, practiced in particular economic and historical contexts and used to confront and maintain inequity. In addition, the researchers who wrote about approaches to mathematics education that were culturally relevant in the 1990’s, in contexts throughout primary and secondary education, generated clear attention to such world’s political nature (Tate 1995; Ladson-Billings 1995).
Critical theory, has greatly influenced the development of critical pedagogy and in conclusion the resulting forms in mathematics education and critical mathematics education (Frankenstein, 1987, Skovsmose, 2004) and social justice mathematics education (Gutstein, 2006). Two of the main aims of critical mathematics are to (1) develop within learners “conscientizacao” (a kind of political awareness) that permits an individual to realise her or his position in society and as a part of history (Freire, 1987) and (2) motivate and stimulate individuals to action. Conscientizacao is fashioned through an aptitude to analyse society from a political viewpoint, incorporating that opinion into self- identity, and being able to recognise injustices in the world. In mathematics, this has been translated into learners being able to interpret and analyse data in ways to assist them visualise the humanity/inhumanity behind the figures numbers and to utilise mathematics as a tool for exposing and analysing social injustices and as a basis for convincing others of a particular (often non-dominant) standpoint or opinion. Learners as considered active enquirers and take a participatory role in problem-posing dialogue as important aspects of critical mathematics education. Through dialogue, learners are given the experience and opportunity to express themselves and respond and act on their knowledge. In this way, students are provided with a broader number of choices on how they can interact which their peers and other citizens. Moreover, practitioners and researchers who seek to understand their place both in society and history and aim to challenge the status quo reflect the growing field of critical mathematics education and social justice mathematics.
An increasing, but still small, number of researchers have started investigating teaching mathematics for social justice (Skovsmose, 1994; Gutstein 2003; Frankenstein 1997). For instance, Skovsmose (1994, pp. 208) considered whether “mathemacy,” which means a “competence in which people can understand and interpret social reality features,” can be used for empowerment since it can be a mechanism for organizing and re-organizing how to interpret social tradition, organizations and proposals for reforms of politics. Skovsmose (1994), in his work, examined mathematics’ focused projects, relevant to the lives of the Danish students and identified and associated significant processes, in supporting the students to achieve a broader awareness of the degree in which mathematics is incorporated in the everyday life and for preparation of the students for democratic citizenship. One such project, ‘Economic Relationships in the Childs World’, involved students; analysing their personal use of money, examining and critiquing a social program which awarded money to families based on the family’s number of children and creating a budget for a youth club (Bartell 2013). Skovsmose (1994) used each project in highlighting specific critical mathematics’ education aspects intended and directed towards social justice promotion.
Similarly, Gutstein (2003) suggested a theoretical framework for social justice pedagogy that included the students’ goals in writing and reading the universe with mathematics. Gutstein (2003) defined “reading the world” as applying mathematics in understanding relationships of resource inequities, power and unequal opportunities amongst various social clusters and, additionally, in understanding clear discrimination centred on language, gender, class, race and other dissimilarities. For instance, students used mathematics in addressing whether there exists evidence of racism in data for housing. On the other hand, “writing the world “entailed application of mathematics in changing the world, which is a process of development, or starting to perceive oneself as having the capability of creating transformation, and creating a form of social organization (Gutstein 2006, p.27). For instance, the students attended community meetings and wrote essays as they used mathematics in examining and confronting gentrification in their neighbourhood. In his study, Gutstein (2006, p. 70) found that students grew in their ability in understanding society’s complex aspects, whereby, “mathematics became a powerful and a necessary tool for analysis that students used in studying their socio-political existence.” Furthermore, Gutstein’s (2006, p. 127) data suggested that “mathematics in context” supported students to learn mathematics to understand and develop mathematical power, and that the views of his students grew about mathematics. They saw it as essential tool for socio-political realities investigation that shaped their lives.
Suitable curricula can theoretically support a social justice pedagogy, under certain conditions. The ultimate aim is the evolvement of good “critical thinking skills” as an implicit outcome. As Ladson-Billings (1994) puts it, “thinking critically” is something students require in order to struggle successfully against racism and injustice. A suitably taught curriculum can play a significant part in teaching for social justice because it helps to develop the critical thinking that is necessary in the melee for equity and justice. In fact, (Gutstein et al., 1997) argued a similar point about the theoretical relationship of NCTM-based pedagogy to the goals of culturally relevant teaching (Ladson Billings, 1995). Although not identical to the teaching for social justice, culturally relevant teaching is strongly oriented toward equity and justice (Tate, 1995).
Despite the fact that, there is virtually no existing research about in-service teachers that teaches how to learn mathematics, and how to educate for social justice as indicated by Gates & Jorgensen (2009), a large number of studies do exist addressing teachers’ learning in their preparation programs and disciplines, to teach for social justice, other than just mathematics (Cochran-Smith 1995; Barton 2003; Darling-Hammond et al 2002; Adams et al 1997).
Teaching for social justice is a process that needs teachers to adapt to a specific context their students and themselves are part of, and, therefore, is not a matter of method (Cochran-Smith, 1999). According to Bartell (2013) learning to teach social justice does not occur in one graduate or post-graduate course, but is a complex process and a lifelong undertaking that require reflection, perseverance and effort (Darling-Hammond 2002). Gutiérrez (2009) also stated that it needs teachers to visualise and accept it that way.
In a study conducted by Bartell (2013), the authors used a design of a graduate course that was informed by four main factors that guided the educators in learning teaching for social justice. The four main factors were drawn from a theoretical model of equity pedagogy of Darling-Hammond (2002), and they included schools, students, society, and self.
Teachers who are learning to educate for social justice must also get to understand themselves, both from another’s perspective and in person (self). Rousseau and Tate (2003) talk of the importance of teacher self-reflection on equity in mathematics education to “improve the educational experiences of poor students and students of colour in our schools” (p. 211). According to Darling-Hammond (2002), this includes making a reflection on how their opinions about learning and teaching get predisposed by the economic, historical and cultural perspectives within the social environment which they grew up, and trying to understand experiences and perspectives of others to make a reflection on how their personal biases may affect their teaching (Bell 2007). Because schooling, learning and teaching are associated to social, political and economic structures of power in the community (Kozol 2005), classrooms and schools are not sites that are neutral. According to Cochran-Smith (1999), teachers learning how to educate for social justice contend with getting to understand how these structures of power interact with their understanding of learning, teaching and society. NCTM (2000) states: “The mathematics classroom, then, is a place where all students should be encouraged to actively participate, contribute to discussions, share new ideas, and develop solutions to problems that are real to their respective cultural backgrounds and communities.”
Teachers, learning how to educate for social justice, must also get to understand and thoroughly know their students. Gutstein and Peterson (2006) note that “teachers should view students’ home cultures and languages as strengths upon which to build, rather than deficits for which to compensate.” (p. 3) This suggests that teachers should make specific efforts to identify, embrace, and include lived experiences of the students into the mathematics classroom to provide students stimulus and meaningful learning opportunities that may help encourage and support students towards success. Darling-Hammond (2002, p. 209) further asserted that they must know and understand their students in ways that are non-stereotypical while comprehending and acknowledging the means in which context and culture impact their learning and lives.
Teaching for social justice entails making issues such as classism, racism, equity, and power explicit classroom parts (Cochran-Smith, 1999). According to Griffin (1997), students have a broad range of reactions to the issues, from immobilization to resistance, to anger, and to excitement. Thoroughly knowing, understanding and appreciating students will include anticipating the myriad of students’ responses that they may exude or display or might be experiencing. Additionally, teachers teaching social justice should take into account the evolving understanding of students, self and social contexts that will affect the teaching and learning in order that they can enact and develop classroom practices supporting their school students. It is at this point that teachers can start developing pedagogies for social justice that maintain connections with the social contexts and students while also building on the existing knowledge of the students in creating new knowledge (Griffin 1997).
A close examination of the studies on social justice in education are in support with the argument that ethnic minority and more specifically black African students frequently need a method that is different to be successful in mathematics classes. From the qualitative study conducted by Gutiérrez’s (1999), which focused on the Latino high school students success in calculus, the findings were that Latino students in urban settings and from low socioeconomic backgrounds, have the same capability of achieving similar success, like their counterparts who are white and from suburban settings. According to Gutiérrez’s (1999), the key is the dedication and sensitivity of professional educators who have confidence in the abilities of their learners. In the study, Gutiérrez’s (1999) pointed out that the mathematics department was aware of the needs of the students and took them into account so as to provide the support necessary for the success of the student. The mathematics department members also embraced diversity and were extremely valuable in developing positive relationships inside and outside the classroom with the students. The teachers valued heathy professional associations with their students that they developed and maintained meaningful relationships which throughout the entire academic year. Moreover, the teachers took their time in learning and increasing their knowledge of their students, coordinating extra time outside their work and collaborating during the school days to discuss the progress of the students, lessons and evaluating the lessons of each other. The teachers offered to tutor, at different points within the course of the school day, in order to reduce the students’ probabilities of leaving the school purely because they were devoid of the necessary support and assistance required to complete the assignments. This support allowed the students receive adjustments equitably and enter classrooms at different levels to meet their personal and academic needs.
In a separate study, Gutiérrez’s (1999) used observations and interviews to examine the progress of calculus teaching. In this program, the success of calculus teaching to a pedagogy that was culturally relevant and was adopted by the department of mathematics (Ladson-Billings 1994). The teachers also shared the belief that the learners at high school level who had access to calculus also had access to fields of study and colleges that have historically excluded black students. As concluded by Gutiérrez, this access provided an environment that is culturally just for the Latino students, who may not otherwise be offered equitable resources that are essential for their success, in a different environment.
Teaching with social justice is as significant as educating for social justice. In his study, Mitescu et al (2011) measured implementation activities of the syllabus of social justice in primary school classes. The research applied a mixed methodology that was unique to the literature body in that it directly linked the teachers’ teaching practices to the outcomes of the students on the state mandated end of unit tests. The study findings indicated that the learners who received more teachings from the context of social justice demonstrated reasoning of greater depth and understanding and eventually scored higher in the state tests compared to those with the less teaching involving the context of social justice. Despite the fact that the study by Mitescu et al (2011), used only twenty-two novice teachers of the elementary school and their students, the results are accepted as dependable and they support and can be cited to validate social justice use in the curriculum. The successful results are also reflected for entirely other subdivisions and not only the black or white students. For those learners, who are in primary or elementary school, the early exposure to social justice concepts helps in providing a classroom that is ‘just’ socially and allows the students to start questioning the enacted policies and work towards an inclusive and equitable environment and atmosphere.
In a study conducted by Rousseau and Tate (1995), they noted a lack of pedagogy that is relevant culturally inside the classroom and its outcomes for the males who are African-American. The researchers interviewed and observed teachers and documented a classroom environment that was seriously inequitable. In the study, one teacher claimed to be fair to all her learners in her class by delegating the duty of assisting other learners in her class to those students from her agenda. The aim was to inspire the students to start discussions allowing for help each other with the tasks of the day. However, the outcome was the white students sought help while the students who were African-American (especially the males) declined to seek help and as a result were missing out in the process of learning. Furthermore, the learners who suffered most in during the process were further marginalized and at the end failed in the course. However, in the study, even though the teacher understood and acknowledged the trend and she still allowed it to persist. The reluctance of the African American students to seek assistance, which the teacher and they knew they needed desperately, resulted in an imbalanced state that brought fundamental inequality directly within the classroom environment. The teacher believed she was being equitable since the same opportunities were offered to the African American male students which were also provided to the whole class. Further, that the male students who were African American “decided” not to utilize and participate with these opportunities and chances. Therefore, according to the teacher, the failures of the students are not because of unfair treatment, but a result of chronological consequences of their decisions. The transfer of the blame to the learners left the teacher with no motive of considering changing her strategies of teaching to make sure that her class have an opportunity that is equitable in learning mathematics.
A study by Rousseau and Tate’s (2003), highlighted the significant difference of the words ‘equal’ and ‘fair’ and that ‘equal’ does not necessarily imply ‘fair’. As noted by Hodge (2006) and Gutiérrez (1999), in many cases students vary in motivation, family values, and abilities that require the teacher to be cognizant of the student’s differences and accordingly respond. What was evidenced in a study by Rousseau and Tate’s (2003) is that what may be applicable for one individual student may not work for the next student. In the research, Rousseau and Tate also found that the teacher was not changing the plan when the plan in place was not working to expectations or was ineffective. It is important for increased accountability of teachers instead of expecting it from the students in a single day when their cultural basis may not be fitting with the prospects of the classroom. In other words, a balance must be there. The teachers must apply their professional judgment in initiating changes for the students who need it and also when necessary (Colquitt 2014). Too much mathematics class’s restreaming and remediation, for instance, may suppress the students’ improvement who are prepared to move on to the next class. On the other hand, too little remediation in mathematics’ classroom may leave behind well prepared students. Again, to be impartial is to be familiar with the student’s differences, characteristics and idiosyncrasies and then make the necessary modifications to the instruction practices and techniques as well as to provide and initiate any additional the help that students’ may need in order to be successful.
The research by Ensign (2003) provided an example of teaching that is culturally linked and the supportive evidence of its effect on the learning and teaching in the mathematics’ classes. The study used qualitative or descriptive measures to delve into the teaching content and found that it was culturally connected but also noted that learners, notwithstanding their upbringings, have a higher likelihood of contributing to the solving and writing mathematical problems if they were related to concepts that they came across daily. Further that the problems need to be authentic, contextual and mirror a curriculum that is revolving around students themselves. Just like Gutiérrez (1999), Ensign (2003) chose an urban setting and achieved similar results. That is, when the students from the low socio-economic status and black students are provided with content, atmosphere and support that are favourable and generate a positive learning environment then results are analogous to those of their white colleagues. Additionally, Ensign (2003) noted a disinterest by the students on the textbook problems which generated indifference in mathematics despite the fact that writers of mathematics textbooks claimed to provide examples and problems that are relevant. It was shown that the relevance of the textbook content was to the writers themselves but not to the learners (Ladson-Billings 1995; Ensign 2003). This generates a ‘disconnect’ between the learning and teaching of mathematics and can be eliminated by letting the learners to get in the mathematics from their communities and their homes.
The researches discussed above offer a glimpse into the mathematics’ classes that are full of mathematics that is engaging, relevant and rich. According to Colquitt (2014), these factors are significant element to the students’ overall success, especially the minority ethnic group and specifically back students. Students will work when the context and perspective is relevant and significant to them. Similarly, Tate (1995) postulated that it is no longer an ‘option’ for the classrooms to provide authentic learning for the students, but is a fundamental ‘prerequisite’, if the learners are to realize success in mathematics subject. Tate (1995) indicated that black students are often compelled to comprehend the white students’ understandings to realize success in a mathematics classroom. The teachers, who are predominantly white subconsciously select textbook problems that were written and produced by predominantly white authors from a white perspective. This was also noted by Ensign (2003) who claimed that the textbook problems are irrelevant to the black students hence forcing them to learn mathematics and also get identified with a new context, of which, sometimes they have no previous experience or understanding. Additionally, just changing the Eurocentric faces and names to the traditional faces and names of the Africans, for instance, does not brand mathematics relevant culturally. This shows the textbook writer’s deficiency of cultural sensitivity and contributes to the students difficulties in executing mathematics. The approach of textbooks in teaching mathematics results coupled with culturally insensitive learning atmospheres that are inequitable holds captive social justice in mathematics classes’ and progress across all cultures.
A demonstration on how educators must and can decamp from the traditional practices and teaching textbooks is provided by Tate (1995). The investigation allowed the students to explore issues plaguing their societies and communities and apply mathematics as a tool for investigation and advocacy in order to negotiate and promote change. Tate (1995) used interviews, artefacts, and observations when describing the overall discussion in a classroom that evolved into a full project for social justice and qualitative teacher led study who went on to successfully implement social justice pedagogy. The social justice project incorporated mathematical concepts and skills used in defining a community problem, initiated change improving the quality of the community of students, and presented the issue to the policy makers. This was a sincere study that highlighted the genuine desire of the teacher to support the learners to recognize, analyse and negotiate to ‘right the wrongs’ in their communities and localities. This led to students having a depth and breadth of mathematical knowledge and I good understanding of how to use mathematics as a tool for advocacy, coupled with the student’s moral duty in making modifications for improvement for all (Colquitt 2014).
Frankenstein (1997) and Ladson-Billings (1995) stated that the ultimate teaching responsibility is a socially just and equitable classroom environment. Gay and Howard (2000) took this further and stated that this heavily rests upon the teacher preparation and education programs offered which should be the basis for the training of the future teachers deliberately incorporating the ability to teach student populations that are ethnically and culturally diverse. Future teachers may have come from traditionally more affluent and culturally naïve backgrounds and may be uncomfortable discussing teaching from a perspective of multi-culture or race. “Both in services and pre-service are perplexed on how they can simultaneously teach for multicultural education and meeting academic excellence standards. Most of them think it is impossible, even as they claim to accept the necessity of doing both” (Gay and Howard 2000). Every educator comes with a list of principles to the classes, whether unsubstantiated or substantiated, and such values influence how the teachers teach their students. Using disaggregated data broken down to identify performance disparities, Gay and Howard (2000) also expounded on the need for multicultural education. Native American, Latino and African American learners poorly achieve continually in mathematics, and this substantiates the results by Ladson-Billings (1995) and Tate (1995). The difference between teacher preparation program and desirable teaching practices is a racism side effect, particularly about mathematics education since mathematics is often regarded as the “gateway “allowing or denying access to many careers and colleges. Gay and Howard (2000) further suggested that more preliminary courses in diversity and multicultural teaching be necessary for all potential educators and anyone who is planning to be accredited to enter the teaching profession and those aspiring teachers and the children. Gay and Howard (2000) also declared that pedagogy for cultural education teaching needs to be an effort shared. All instructors of teachers, not only the black, have the responsibility to prepare any future teacher to teach with social justice and to be consciously and actively aware of cultural sensitivity. Given that majority of the teachers are not the black people, the duty must commence with the education of post graduate and undergraduate student teachers and be spread amongst all the teaching profession in order to have any impact and make change in teaching to ensure that mathematics’ classrooms are socially fair and just.
The idea of preparation of the teacher is not exclusively for the course content but also extends and is incorporated as a component of reflection of oneself once the teacher is within the classroom environment. This is fundamental and significant for the teachers of the twenty-first century. According to Gay and Howard (2000, pp.8), reflections include: – (a) critical honesty of white perceptions of truth and dominance that is culturally conditioned; (b) genuine empathy with the perspectives, issues and experiences of other ethnic groups; (c) advocacy for the distribution of privileges and power amongst different ethnic groups; and lastly (d) making investments in the energy and resources in the real change process.
Similarly, Rousseau and Tate (2003) stressed the significance of reflection of the teacher as means of improving the equity in mathematics classrooms amongst students. To further elaborate on this argument, the idea of colour-blind teaching is regularly used in justifying all students’ equal treatment. However, from a perspective of the ‘Critical Race Theory’ colour-blind teaching is an instrument for keeping intact the present structures of education. Not recognizing colour means a conscious choice of the teacher to distinguish and disregard the variances amongst students that are undeniable and then refute that the variances lead to teaching practices that are inequitable and should be taken into account when lesson planning (Ensign 2003; Ladson-Billings 1994). Further exploration of student teacher training in mathematics education often uses methodologies rooted in Critical Race Theory. Yosso (2006) defines Critical Race Theory in education as “a theoretical and analytical framework that challenges the ways race and racism affect educational structures, practices, and discourses” (p.172).
Lastly, Rousseau and Tate (2003) noted that reflection of oneself by the teacher is significant in assisting in the elimination of classroom inequities. The educators viewing equity as equal distributing of resources see equity not as an outcome but as a process. Additionally, when teachers make a reflection on equity as a socio-economic matter, they may not recognize the racism consequences and shift the blame of learner academic failure and apathy on the deficiency of education of their parents. This leaves the prevailing power sharing as it is and obscure the necessity for changing the practices and policies contributing to the failure of the low socio economic, immigrant and black students in mathematics.
There are many current examples within mathematics education and mathematics education research that address issues of social justice all of which are commendable endeavours. These are particularly valuable when, in promoting social justice, students come to realise that freer interaction is not only acceptable, but desirable and even necessary taking into account our democratic social arrangements. When mathematics education fails to rise above the mere mechanical manipulation of data for the purpose of exposing social injustice it runs the risk of exposing students to social issues without subsequent cultivation of the students’ motivation and ability to react to change theirs and others social habits. In other words, becoming mindful of social inequalities is necessary but not a sufficient step in socially just democratic education. Students need enlightened about their own capacity and role they can play in social improvement. It is possible to visualise a school mathematics experience that might work toward social justice and democratic ends. “Conceiving mathematics as measurement allows the participant to see mathematics as a practical activity connected to a personally meaningful end.” (Stemhagen, 2008, p208). This contextual approach to mathematics education accentuates the significance of human intent in the creation of mathematical curricula and knowledge. Mathematics, can be used to empower individuals and mathematics education can relate to and even impact individual meaningful aims or objectives. Democratic societies should educate students for this kind of personal initiative and ability if it is to promote social mobility and the adjustment of social habits.
The partial literature review on social justice in mathematics education places the teacher educators and practicing teachers with consequences to improve and develop current mathematics’ education. Education courses for teachers should implement the viewpoint that it is necessary to prepare all teachers to be able to educate all students. This needs the teacher to be aware of issues of equity, classroom diversity and the need to support and implement these ideas appropriately. The rule should be the relevant teaching needs, and not just the exemption of unfairness in mathematics learning. This will assist the learners to overcome the obstacles and will link learners and educators with a preparation for the societies where they are anticipated to flourish and lead. Rousseau and Tate (2003, pp. 212) asserted that “equal treatment if it leads to different outcomes is not equitable.” It is fundamental and significant that teacher educators and both aspiring and established teachers rise to the occasion to provide socially, equitable just environments by doing what is right for all students of mathematics to generate successful social and academic progress.
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