Life-Long Learning Laboratory Issues/Questions

Chapters 1-4 of this book presented commentaries and research to support varying viewpoints on some critical issues in Standards-based reform. From each of these chapters, I select some of the issues/questions to contribute to L4. Where I have some thoughts related to an issue, I share them after the questions.

L4: Chapter 1—Racism

Before we discuss the issue of racism in mathematics education, I think the perspective of the Standards-based documents, first as political documents, is necessary to entertain any thoughts about them being racist documents. (My goodness! That can’t be. Oops—sorry—forgot to enter with a growth mindset.) Stiff (2001), then president of NCTM when the Principles and Standard for Mathematics document was released, wrote:

In April 2000, NCTM unveiled a political document, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics . . . Few regarded Principles and Standards for School Mathematics as a political statement about school mathematics and school change. And few recognized the need for NCTM to deepen its political initiatives to better promote the ideals of the Standards. The original 1989 Standards document was a political document. It talked about the content of mathematics, the pedagogy of mathematics classrooms, and the evaluation of mathematics curricula. The Standards suggested ways to improve the status of countless underserved students and changed the status quo in classrooms all across the United States and Canada.


Now we begin our conversation on racism. In Chapter 1, I discussed my fear of being cast as a racist because of my questions on equity in preparation for the writing of the first edition of this book. Over ten years later, I learn that I was and am still not alone in having such fears from Stinson’s (2011) article titled “‘Race’ in Mathematics Education: Are We a Nation of Cowards?” Stinson analyzes the number of research publications in mathematics education that conceptualized race or ethnicity as variables. He concludes that only 4% addressed the subject, and within that group, most focused on the achievement gap rather than on the contributing factors to racism. From their own similar research, Parks and Schmeichel (2012) write: “The marginalization or exclusion of attention to race and ethnicity in mathematics education discourse is problematic because what we write both reflects and shapes what we know and believe to be true about the field” (249). It becomes problematic because it can lead to the mistaken impression that mathematics is color blind. To facilitate and promote conversations on racism and equity, the Journal for Research in

Mathematics Education (JRME, 2012) published a special equity issue. I present excerpts from one of the articles to serve as catalysts for further thoughts on racism in our L4 space.

In a conversation on racism, members from the JRME equity panel discuss questions posed by David Barnes:

Barnes: So, why don’t you think more people are addressing racism?

Gutierrez: I think a lot of people don’t know how I think a lot of people are still struggling

with their own relationship to racism. For many white researchers, there’s still a lot of potential guilt that’s felt. There’s confusion about Where do I fit? And what role am I supposed to play in this?

Frankenstein: Well, I think some people probably feel that if they don’t mention racism, that means it doesn’t exist. So there’s reluctance there, and in general there’s this idea that education is neutral, that we shouldn’t deal with controversial issues and all of that, which I think this panel is disagreeing with, but that a lot of people feel that that’s the case. Moschkovich: Sometimes it does feel like only if there is people of color at a meeting will issues of “race,” culture, equity, diversity be raised, or raised in a particularly impassioned way . . . There is an issue with the contribution that researchers who come from nondominant groups or who do research with nondominant groups make. I think that this type of research sometimes gets diminished by academia as being “only about that particular group” rather than being about how humans learn or how children learn Mathematics.

Martin: I think if we take a couple of steps back and we just look at our domain, we have to

admit that we live in what I’ve been calling a white space. Most of the researchers are white or can be identified or self-identify as white. They’ve been trained by other white researchers. To sort of ignore those patterns of socialization, those patterns of the production of researchers, it shouldn’t surprise us that race and racism are not addressed in research . . . One of the things that we can say about math education is that math education as a discipline and a domain is deeply implicated in the production of “race” in this world and in this society We can’t get around that.


Martin (2012) posits that whether or not the mathematics community wants to remain neutral (or colorblind) in the face of controversial issues, mathematics education itself, is nonetheless a racist enterprise. He asks, “How do race and racism structure the very nature of the mathematics education enterprise?” (322). He shares one answer based on results from his previous work: “I have argued that mainstream mathematics education research and policy, particularly in the United States, can be implicated in the production and reproduction of racial ideologies, meanings, disparities, hierarchies, and identities” (322). Two examples of such research, policies, and practices that he discusses are: Standards-based documents or programs such as the NCTM documents, Common Core, and The Algebra Project. He explains that, in their call for Mathematics for All, the programs or documents, while appearing to address social justice by promoting the integration of African American, Latino, and Native American students into the mathematics mainstream, nonetheless require the process of assimilation which, according to Martin, may be linked to racial assimilation. Martin uses Bell (2004), who quotes Rist (1978), to define assimilation: Assimilation, Bell writes, “Rist explains, is a means of socializing nonwhite students to act, speak, and believe very much like white students” (327).

Chapter 1, question 1: While I’d be quick to discount statements from anyone who said the NCTM Standards documents have any connections to racism, I now understand how one can defend that statement from Martin’s perspective. However, I still believe that the

Standards-based documents promote learning goals and teaching practices that I support. Are we to dismiss them because they could also be considered racist in that they promote goals to satisfy the need of society based on what whites perceive as important?

Chapter 1, question 2: I think most would agree that the answer to question 1 is, of course not. Thus, the second question is: Within the various roles that we hold in the mathematics education community, what specifically are we supposed to do with this new level of awareness?

Chapter 1 , question 3: In partial response to question 2, should we launch new conversations specifically on what underserved students’ needs are for the future while keeping in mind that they may/should go beyond those promoted by the Standards documents?

Chapter 1, question 4: Martin (2012) writes, “I believe that mathematics educators must continue to ask, ‘What kind of project is mathematics education?’ and ‘Whose interests are served by this project?’” (328). In light of this, which existing projects should we reexamine to be sure that they also do, indeed, meet the needs of underserved students?

Chapter 1, question 5: This is from Martin (2013): “In relation to teacher practice, how can we more effectively partner with teachers to uncover and understand the external forces that position them in ways where their teaching and classroom practice are put in service to larger political projects and ideologies?” (328).

Chapter 1, question 6: I redirect Martin’s question 5 to administrators: “In relation to administrative practices, how can we more effectively partner with administrators to uncover and understand the external forces that position them in ways where their administrative practices are put in service to larger political projects and ideologies?”

My Thoughts on Question 5: Assuming that we are able to delineate the external forces from question 5 and we are able to help teachers understand the political knowledge they need to better serve our students, will the education community also be ready to suggest the kind of support teachers will need to address the issues? Gutierrez’s (2014) NCTM PowerPoint on equity shares some examples of the difficulties that politically minded teachers are currently facing, together with some recommendations to them for voicing opinions. Much more support is needed, however, because the awareness of political responsibility goes hand in hand with awareness that colorblind glasses are now extinct, but many teachers did/do not know they have them on! I support Gutierrez’s (2013) statement: “Until teachers are given the proper time and support to reflect on broader social realities involved in schooling, mathematics, identity, and power, they are unlikely to challenge the powerful messages and policies being enacted by those outside of education. One example is the ‘achievement gap’ discourse” (12-13).

My Thoughts on Question 6: I might choose to work on question 6 before question 5 because it would be so much easier for already overworked teachers if administrators guided them toward equitable teaching practices rather than having teachers think of a nice way to disagree with an administrator. On second thought, working with teachers has the best chance of making an immediate impact on our children; therefore, we have to find a way to work with both partnerships simultaneously.

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