Many thanks to the inimitable and ever-alert Prof. Plum for calling attention to this renewed assault on a discipline one would have thought was immune to politicization.
Here is a brief excerpt from Diane Ravitch on this trend cited by Prof. Plum:
Those were the days of innocent dumbing-down. Now mathematics is being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators who call themselves “critical theorists.” They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice. Social justice math relies on political and cultural relevance to guide math instruction. One of its precepts is “ethnomathematics,” that is, the belief that different cultures have evolved different ways of using mathematics, and that students will learn best if taught in the ways that relate to their ancestral culture. From this perspective, traditional mathematics — the mathematics taught in universities around the world — is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors. The culturally attuned teacher will learn about the counting system of the ancient Mayans, ancient Africans, Papua New Guineans, and other “non-mainstream” cultures.Prof. Plum also cites an actual syllabus on Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice taught by one Blidi Stemn at Northeastern University, Boston Campus:
Partisans of social justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers,” shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: “Sweatshop Accounting,” with units on poverty, globalization, and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is “Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood.” Others include “The Transnational Capital Auction,” “Multicultural Math,” and “Home Buying While Brown or Black.” Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media, and environmental racism. The theory behind the book is that “teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible.” Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students’ race, gender, ethnicity, and community.
This fusion of political correctness and relevance may be the next big thing to rock mathematics education, appealing as it does to political activists and to ethnic chauvinists.
This introductory course explores principles of social justice in education as a lens in rethinking school mathematics. The course will provide participants with a) an opportunity to expand their knowledge and awareness of issues of social justice in the context of mathematics education; b) an opportunity to develop a pedagogical model for teaching for social change; c) a process to critically examine the content of school mathematics curriculum and instructional practices from the perspective of social justice; d) an opportunity to contemplate on the role of the teacher as an agent of change and “transformative intellectual”. Throughout the course we will emphasize the relationship between theory and practice in an attempt to understand some of the complexities and challenges in addressing issues of social justice in mathematics teaching and learning.
Sapient Educator has more on social justice math in Multicultural Math? Ethnomathematics? Socially Just Math? No Kidding!
Sapient Educator has dug up the apparent originator of the term Ethnomathematics, a Brazilian called Ubiratan D'Ambrosio. D'Ambrosio sounds like a buddy of Paulo Freire, judging by the grandiose claims made for this form of math. World peace, no less:
Mathematics is absolutely integrated with Western Civilization, which conquered and dominated the entire world. The only possibility of building up a planetary civilization restoring the dignity of the losers and, together, winners and losers moving into the new. [Ethnomathematics, then, is] a step towards peace.A little bit murky. Something must be lost in translation somewhere.