Mathematics in and through social justice

Kathleen Nolan has written an article called Mathematics in and through social justice: another misunderstood marriage? This article was published in Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education on Tuesday. Here is the abstract of Nolan's article:
The current push to marry off mathematics with social justice compels one to ask such critical questions as “What is social justice?” and “How does (or can) mathematics look and act when viewed in/through the lenses of social justice?” Taking a critically reflective approach, this article draws the reader into a discussion of what is amiss in the currently promoted picture-perfect marriage of mathematics and social justice, presenting perspectives on both the content and context of mathematics teaching and learning. In this article, the author’s account of her experience in teaching a mathematics curriculum course for prospective middle years' teachers highlights a call to re-imagine the relationship between mathematics and social justice as more than a perfunctory integration of a “statistics and figures” approach. The author’s reflections acknowledge the complexity and potentiality of the relationship while challenging current status quo practices and paradigms in mathematics education.


Anonymous said...

My interest is what is your point of view? I can read abstracts as well as anybody. What audience is Nolan speaking too? After reading her article, I'm not sure I understand how mathematics relates to social justice? Do you?

How do you define mathematics and how do you define social justice? What is the relationship between these two concepts?

I'm not sure the math reform movement has ever been guided by any ethics or moral principles. Why should they care now? Math reform doesn't need a heart transplant, they need a heart implant. Convince me that I'm wrong.

Reidar said...

Thanks a lot for your comment. I am sure you can read abstracts as well as anybody, and I am sorry to say that I am going to keep posting abstracts on my blog anyway. I would have liked to write something personal about all articles that appear in the journals I am following, but I simply don't have the time to do that. Sorry! When I am writing about articles that happen to be within the field(s) I am most interested in, I normally write more than just the abstract, but with articles like this - which are not exactly within my main field of interest - I only mention them briefly.


Anonymous said...

Here's an example - If you were to plant a row of carrots and there were 4 carrots per foot - how many carrots are in a row 10' long? It would seem pretty obvious to a third grader that you would multiply the two numbers together and get 40.

Not so, says a math reform author. That would depend on where you started planting your carrots. Yeah right! No, really.

And true it sounds like another other problem I know - How many fence posts would a person need to encircle a 20' x 30' garden if the posts were spaced 5' apart.
But are they same problems?

I know this because I've seen the problem used on both students and teachers. And both groups struggle with it. These problems tend to be more of an annoyance, because it speaks to how much we think we know, as compared to what little we really do know about math.

My first criticism is more with the emphasis. Not the subject matter because a traditional textbook would treat this more as an exercise in enrichment, not as a core subject.

And it touches on nearly everything I read in math reform textbooks - using Core plus as an example - lines are taught as abstractions using statistical models, not as something that is concrete which really goes against Piagetian principles.
Where else would you find:
y = a + bx

This is not the complete model by the way, there's more. Students have to find a recursive rule for generating the line and it begins with a seed (if you know what I mean) Doesn't it strike you as being odd? Is this a line or a fractal we are generating?

I call it the Zen model of a line. And literally, it goes far beyond the understanding and maturity level of our students. Most teachers avoid this chapter, but statistics (obsolete- that it is -e.g. look up mean absolute deviation).

Secondly, how does one assess this sort of learning and can you apply it beyond the limitations of discrete math. Are you not teaching students how to count? Where do you see problems like this on a standards-based test? My answer is no where on such tests do such problems appear. Yet it is the rationale used behind adopting these textbooks when adoption committees review the research.

Once again, I think there is a need for discussion and blogs are one way to assist teachers, but it does little good to publish abstracts when the entire field is under fire for publishing research that is excessively biased.

Aside from parents - when the learner's expectation is that they are doing multiplication when in fact they are counting fenceposts. Is that ethical?

Reidar said...

As far as your "carrot problem", I would have to agree with the math reform author - the answer is certainly not 40! There is more to the problem than that, and I don't think there is a point in teaching the pupils to simply find the numbers in a word problem and let them perform some kind of random (more or less) operation on them. On the other hand, you are entering a discussion about the use of "real-life" problems here, and this is a big discussion!

As far as the rest of your comment is concerned, I think you have a point, although I don't agree completely with everything you say. I also have to explain that I don't live in the U.S., I live in Norway. I have never lived in the U.S., and although I have read about it, I am in no position to provide any answers to you "math wars"! I find them interesting, but only as an outside observer. The purpose of my blog is not to make arguments for either side of these U.S. reforms!

I agree with you that discussions are needed, and I think blogs are good ways to communicate with teachers, but please respect that these kinds of discussions are really not the purpose of my blog! I am writing this blog primarily to inform fellow researchers on what is happening within our research community. Publishing abstracts is just what many of my fellow researchers want to read, so that they can decide for themselves whether or not any of these articles are worth reading. If you want something else, I am sorry to say that you will probably not find this on my blog. This blog is about mathematics education research, not about mathematics education. Teachers are not the intended audience, I am. I started writing this blog as a tool that I could benefit from myself, and that is still going to be the main purpose. I am not trying to attract the masses, and I am not trying to assist teachers in this blog. I'm trying to assist myself more or less. If other people find it helpful, then I'm happy. If not, that is too bad :-)


Anonymous said...

"As far as your "carrot problem", I would have to agree with the math reform author - the answer is certainly not 40!"

I would like to disagree with you! What is wrong with my answer?

Anonymous said...

How are you assisting yourself? By publishing abstracts of research that you say you know little about?

But then you do know Dr. Silver? So do I?

I'm interested in research? What assumptions do educational researchers make when they publish evaluations that get used by teachers to make decisions like adopt textbooks? How do you define data dropping?

I'm looking for the latest reference so I can publish my own research and I'm interested in using Dr. Silver. I'm curious just to get another opinion.

I wasn't aware that I was talking about the math war. I thought we over that. I wanted to discuss research and NMAP's recommendations.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of Mathematics in Society. After reading the NFR application for the Learning Communities Math proposal (2003), I noticed your team referenced Vygotsky's "Mind in Society".

Just curious if you see any parallels between your collaborative approach in the mathematics classroom and the world-renowned school system that Vygotsky helped create after the October Revolution.

Reidar said...

First, I have to make a confession: Reading the comments to this post has actually made me quite mad. I am not sure if it showed in my own replies, but I was mad, and I am sorry for that! All I could see in the comments was some person(s) making (anonymous) complaints about how I have decided to work on my blog, and telling me how it would have been better to do it. I know there was more to it than that, but that's what caught my attention. Of course, I am aware that the comments were probably not intended like that, and I would like to apologize!

So, let me try and make some more productive comments this time!

First, the carrot problem. If I were to plant a row of carrots, 4 carrots per foot in a 10 foot row, I would plant them like this:
The large X would occur every time I moved another foot. In total, that would make 11 large X, and 20 small ones, or a total number of 31 carrots. I am aware that there might be other ways of solving the problem, but that would be my solution to it. And I am sorry that I said quick to say "the answer is certainly not 40!" Not a nice way of replying to someone... In a real-world situation, however, that would be my solution to the carrot problem. There is, however, a much larger discussion behind this, and it is related to how we connect mathematics with everyday life (the theme of my own thesis), how students understand mathematical problems inside or outside a school context (e.g. the works of Carraher, Carraher, Schliemann and others with Brasilian street children), how pupils don't take the authenticity of these "authentic" word problems into consideration in a school context (see the work of Torulf Palm and others), etc. Then again, there might be other ways of interpreting the problem, and I am sorry I was so harsh earlier! I would like to hear about other interpretations to it!

When it comes to your question about how I assist myself by printing abstracts... My initial aim with this blog was to learn more about my own field of research: mathematics education. This has become a large field, with lots of research journals, lots of conferences, lots of books published, lots of websites, and lots of people involved. More or less impossible for one man to grasp, I guess. I spend quite a lot of time looking for new articles, new journal issues, or new publications of any kind. If I were to read all of them carefully, I wouldn't have the time to do anything else, and writing my own abstracts also takes time. Therefore I have chosen to print the abstracts and references to articles not directly related to the research I am involved with myself, and only spend more time on the articles and books that are directly related to what I do. Still, reading the abstracts of an article gives me an idea about what this is all about, and when I print the abstract along with the link to the article/journal in my blog, it makes it easier for me to get back to it on a later occasion. Interests change, and it might happen that I become interested in areas that are not my top priority at the moment. Writing a few words about these articles in my blog (sometimes very few words, I know!), actually helps me remember. I also normally make a personal copy of most of the articles, so if you send me an e-mail, I could give you a copy of this article.


Reidar said...

Had to split this comment up, as it was too long... Here is the last part:

Do I know Ed Silver? He has a big name in our field, but I have only met him once. He was in the audience when I made my presentation at AERA this year, and I spoke with him the day after. He made some very nice comments about our symposium session. That's what I know about him on a more personal level. If I made an impression that we were personal friends, that was certainly not my intention!

When it comes to the LCM project, I think it was a very interesting project. I was not involved in it myself in any way, but several good colleagues from the University of Agder were. (I am at the University of Stavanger.)

I will have to get back to the other questions later, because my master students are waiting. Busy days of teaching now towards the end of the semester, I am afraid :-)