Math, Social Justice, and the Algorithms We Use
In my last post for this newsletter, I wrote about Grace Chen’s (@graceachen) speech at Twitter Math Camp during which she asked us to ponder the intersection between politics, social justice, and our work as math educators. (If you missed her talk, you can find part one here and part two here.) She has continued the conversation with more blog posts that you can read about here. Her most recent post unpacks and analyzes the concept of diversity and how it is framed in our work and has sparked some insightful comments. What would you add to the discussion?
It seems that there is a resurgence of the math and social justice movement in the MTBoS world and I wanted to curate some of the work that is being conducted. I hope that you find these resources useful in furthering your own exploration about math education, social justice, equality, fairness, and politics. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Please share the resources I missed with me on Twitter (@mathgeek76) and I’ll add them in my next post for the newsletter.
In the math and social justice “world,” there are a few opinions and approaches. Some educators believe that students in underserved communities must learn “traditional” mathematics because math fluency is a key that grants students access to better colleges, better jobs, and more freedom. Math literacy is a ticket that leads to socio-economic advancement. There are others who think math should be a tool for students to develop their critical awareness of social inequalities and injustices in this world. There are still others that strive to question the fairness and justice of the sorting algorithms we use in math education such as grading, tracking, course placement, instruction, and assessments. I won’t sort the following resources into these categories (nor will I weigh the pros and cons of each approach), but I offer you these categories as a way to structure your own professional learning.
Cathy O’Neil’s (@mathbabedotorg) powerful TED talk about the roles that algorithms and big data play in how society is structured is a great starting point. You can read her blog here. She also has a book out called Weapons of Math Destruction that you should check out. Annie Perkins (@Anniekperkins) is starting a book study for teachers on this book as well as Black Stats by Monique Morris. You can read more about Annie’s book club on her blog.
Paolo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed was published in 1968 which doesn’t make it standard #MTBoS material, but should be mentioned. It’s rich with social theory and takes a zoomed out view on how education can be a liberating force for social equality or an oppressive force that seeks to reproduce socio-economic inequalities. It’s a long read, but worth the effort. It may change your life. You can find a PDF version of the text here.
Bob Moses’s Radical Equations is also an excellent book about how math education can be a force for social justice. You can read more about his Algebra Project initiative here.
If you’re looking for a book that you can use to structure some lessons, Rico Gutsteins Rethinking Mathematics is a good start. Political cartoons by the artist Polyp can also be a source for rich and engaging discussions about global socio-economic inequality. Charles Seife’s (@cgseife) book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception can also be a valuable resource to have high school students engage with statistics. Jonathan Osler started a website called Radical Math that contains a library of lessons that you can sort by grade level or topic. (The site does not appear to have been updated recently.)
Here are a few others in the MTBoS community that are writing about the politics and education that you may find worth following. The names are hyperlinked to their websites. Please Tweet me (@mathgeek76) the names of others I should add to this list.
Lastly, “Creating Balance in an Unjust World” is an annual conference that focuses on math education and social justice. You’ll find resources on their website and more information about the conference for 2018 on their website.
Written by Chase Orton (@mathgeek76)