Explore the racial and social justice issues that can be addressed in math classrooms, and both the benefits and pitfalls of this approach to STEM education.
Math can be used as a vehicle to teach and learn about issues of racial and social (in)justice. At the same time, students can learn math as they explore issues.
A partial list of topics that can be explored in a RadicalMath classroom include:
Criminalization of People of Color
Issues include prisons/jails, policing, racial profiling, death penalty, facial recognition technology, surveillance, etc.
Issues include: gentrification, redlining, racial covenants, segregation, home ownership, houselessness, etc.
Issues include: asthma, health insurance, diabetes, smoking, COVID, environmental racism/pollution, food insecurity, etc.
Issues include DACA, separation and imprisonment of children, unaccompanied minors, deportation, surveillance, etc.
Issues include: racial wealth gap, low-wage labor, predatory lenders, access to banks, workers rights, unions, sweatshops, etc.
Issues include: gender pay gaps, anti-trans violence, women in prisons, sexual exploitation, childcare, etc.
BENEFITS and PITFALLS.
Benefits for Students
Recognize the power of mathematics as an essential tool to critically analyze the world around them and create change, rather than merely regard math as a collection of disconnected rules to be memorized and regurgitated.
Engage in high-level thinking about big mathematical ideas
Deepen their understanding of social and racial justice issues on local and global scales
Understand their power to build a just, democratic society
Become more motivated to learn math
Engage in authentic (not just theoretical) community problem-solving projects
Answer this question for themselves: "Why do I have to know this?"
Benefits for Educators
- Differentiate their curriculum more easily
Create interdisciplinary units and partnerships
Learn about their students lives, families and communities
Assess learning in a contextualized, holistic manner
Build deeper relationships with students
"Good" Math Isn't Always Good for Justice
"Good" Justice Isn't Always Good Mathematics
It may be relatively easy to create a lesson that addresses important justice issues, but just because the politics look good doesn't mean the math is. We need to ensure that the lesson fosters the development of math skills, conceptual understanding, and application of learning in ways that are cognitively demanding.
Many schools require their teachers to use district-mandated curriculum, too much of which fails both the "good math" and "good justice" tests. We need to empower our educators - and supportive schools/administrators - to make decisions about the curriculum that is best to meet their students needs.
In many situations, it can be challenging to avoid "teaching towards the test" because these assessments are high-stakes for our students and schools. However, it is possible to prepare students for these gatekeeper exams while also teaching about social justice.