Blending Social Justice Into Math Curriculum Stirs Debate In U.S.

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As politicians debate about critical race theory in school curriculums, another controversy is happening over how mathematics is taught, especially to students of color, according to Yahoo News.

The Oklahoman points out that national test scores show many low-income students and students of color performing poorly in math for a long time. Such disparities can carry over into the math and science-oriented career paths, which are reportedly dominated by white and male employees.

According to a survey from the American Enterprise Institute, 70% of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) workforce is white, and 65% is male.

Some math teachers are changing their approaches to the subject, such as including real-world problems focused on racial and social inequalities. Telannia Norfar, who teaches upper-level math courses at Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, says she shows her students graphs of prison populations in America.

“If you are a math teacher and not having your students use the math skills they’re learning to make sense of the world, they’re missing out,” Norfar told reporters, claiming that showing these issues will encourage them to pursue high-level math classes. She says she has to be careful about her approach, however.

Since some governors and state politicians are curbing curriculum about racism in U.S. history, Norfar warns this could have a “chilling effect” on other subjects, including math. The issue is already escalating in states like California.

Parents and educators are butting heads with advocates proposing a change to the Golden State’s K-12 math framework, according to reporters. Opponents say teachers should stick to traditional math and numbers.

“A real champion of equity and justice would want all California’s children to learn actual math — as in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus — not an endless river of new pedagogical fads,” according to a letter to the state signed by over 1,100 math and science professors.

Advocates of the measure claim they don’t want to abandon or minimize “actual math,” they just want to add equitable discussions to the curriculum.

“We’re not changing or lowering the standards,” Jo Boaler, a Stanford University math education professor, says. “We’re outlining how inequitable the teaching of math is right now.”

Click here to read more about the battle over social justice in mathematical teaching.

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