Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Math For Social Justice Is Needed Now More Than Ever

Here's my response to a NY Sun article [www.nysun.com/article/47301] about the upcoming Math & Social Justice Conference (go to www.radicalmath.org for details) :

Gary Shapiro,

I am one of the organizers of this upcoming mathematics education conference and a long time teacher of college mathematics in a number of metropolitan colleges and universities since the late 1960's. I am also one of a few Black professors of math in the US.

I say this because it is not an accident that the mathematics field in the US does not reflect the demographic realities of US citizens of African descent. We can conclude either of two things from this reality: either people of African descent are intellectually (i.e. genetically) incapable of grasping mathematical ideas or we have been systematically barred from the mathematical sciences because of institutionalized racism. If we accept the former as the real deal, then this nation is doing fine when it comes to the teaching of mathematics (and the natural sciences) and all we need to do is throw more money at those practices.

However, if we accept the latter, then there is something fundamentally wrong with the teaching of mathematics that consistently relegates the Black and Latino student to the lowest rungs of mathematical knowledge. To make a long and complex story short, what we see is the institutionalization of Eurocentrism and hyper abstractionism within the pedagogy of math. Simply put: the erasure of the nonEuropean roots of Mathematics and the "distancing" of mathematics from its Human endeavor/social roots and contemporary practices.

Lastly, the way US teaches math in the 21st Century on the whole is encouraging the erosion of an indigenous-based body of scientists and technicians of any color as the nation and world becomes increasingly more dependent of science and technology. The US has become more and more dependent on nonUS citizens for science and technology- both at the University and industrial levels. This has come about because of the hyper-abstractioning of mathematics within our public schools: be it socalled "fuzzy" math or "traditionally" taught math.

A fundamental rethinking of math pedagogy is in order. This upcoming conference can be sen as a "liberated zone" where this rethinking can not only take place but be debated and enhanced.

Sam Anderson

1 comment:

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