Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Everywhere in Life There Are Numbers: Questions for Social Justice Educators in Mathematics and Everywhere Else

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Everywhere in Life There Are Numbers: Questions for Social Justice Educators in Mathematics and Everywhere Else

Article excerpt

A book review essay on the following:

Gutstein, E. (2006). Reading and Writing the World With Mathematics: Toward a Pedagogy for Social Justice. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-95084-8.

Gutstein, E., & Peterson, B. (2005). Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers. Milwaukee, WI: Rethinking Schools. ISBN 0-942961-54-4.

Eric Gutstein's Reading and Writing the World With Mathematics (2006) is about more than mathematics. In offering a reflective account of teaching social justice through mathematics at Rivera Middle School, Gutstein (known as Mr. Rico to his students) argues for the importance of a social justice curriculum. Gutstein is inspired by Paolo Freire's ideas about literacy and the power that individuals and communities have to free themselves from oppression. He, like Henry Giroux (2005), bell hooks (2003), Michael Apple (2004), and other critical theorists, sees the current schooling climate of high stakes testing and "No Child Left Behind" as constraints but not impenetrable barriers to teaching social justice in the classroom. To penetrate potential barriers of standardized curriculum and rote mathematical instruction, Gutstein advocates what he calls "real world projects" that use math to look at larger social justice issues. Gutstein's book is theoretically sophisticated yet pragmatic, idealistic, and clearly written. This is an important and useful book for teachers who want to bring social justice to the classroom but worry about where to begin.

Gutstein's edited collection, Rethinking Mathematics (2005), was released about the same time as his single-authored book. Rethinking Mathematics provides a game plan for implementing the ideals discussed in Gutstein's more theoretical work. It is published by the Rethinking Schools project and edited by both Gutstein and Bob Peterson, a founding editor of Rethinking Schools. The essays in this collection are an eclectic mix of lesson plans, book reviews, and reflections that are centered on the premise that mathematics and social justice are interconnected and that math can be an essential tool for seeing, analyzing, and shaping the world. The book asserts that (a) students respond better to math when it is placed in relevant and critical contexts and (b) it is dishonest to teach mathematics as if it is neutral and objective.

These books join a growing literature, centered in educational anthropology and/or critical theory, that is concerned with connecting academic knowledge with culturally meaningful and community-orientated content. The Funds of Knowledge project, lead by Norma Gonzalez and Luis Moll, is an example of how to bring community knowledge into the curriculum. Their work is aimed at helping teachers who want to improve their teaching practice and align their own curriculum and practice with the everyday lives of their students. The Funds of Knowledge project aims at "understanding the mathematical potential of households as well as mathematizing household practices" (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2006, p. 197). Ethnomathematics, as founded by D'Ambrosio (1985, 1990) and developed for teaching practice by Powell and Frankenstein (1997), builds on fluid, antiprimitivist representations of cultures and their connections to math. "Culturally Situated Design Tools" by Eglash, Bennett, O'Donnell, Jennings, and Cintorino (2006) uses indigenous and vernacular artifacts and practices as a way to connect mathematics and culture in teaching practice and curriculum.

Reading and Writing the World With Mathematics and Rethinking Mathematics provide detailed, personal examples from K-12 teachers who use social justice pedagogy to teach mathematics. Running through both books are three key (and quite personal) questions for teachers and teacher educators trying to weave social justice curriculum into standardized and high-stakes schooling contexts, namely,

1. How much opinion, perspective and personal political ideology should teachers and teacher educators share with their students? …

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