What does mathematics have to do with social justice?

I began thinking about this question seriously after I came across a booklet titled A Guide for Integrating Issues of Social and Economic Justice into Mathematics Curriculum (2007) written by Jonathan Osler. It is a free resource for educators, and can be downloaded from http://www.radicalmath.org If you prefer to read a review before you plunge in, check out this piece I wrote for the May-June 2020 edition of Teacher Plus.

osler

Here are some excerpts:

How can a mathematics curriculum incorporate issues related to social justice? There are multiple examples and one of those has to do with “studying probability in the context of a unit on how the lottery increases the economic divide between rich and poor.” According to Osler, such a unit can enable students to learn not only the mathematical skills they need but also about economic inequality in the society they live in. They can use their mathematical knowledge to brainstorm ideas about solving real-world problems.

What opportunities can be carved out in your school for this kind of learning? Look carefully at the news reports you are reading and make a note of the numerical data that can be used in your mathematics class to hone skills such as critical thinking, logical deduction and quantitative reasoning – all of which are mentioned in the Draft National Education Policy of 2019. Osler’s examples include defence budgets, worker salaries, population growth, racial profiling, waste disposal, predatory lending, etc. How do you feel about designing mathematics classes using numerical data about casualties, disease prevention, food distribution, and economic losses, being gathered and circulated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you are wondering why mathematics teachers should concern themselves with social justice, this is what Osler has to say: “Math was behind the development of nuclear weapons. It is used to maintain an economic divide between a handful of wealthy, White people and the billions of poor people of colour around the world. It is used as a rationale for depriving people of access to cheap, life-saving drugs. So my question is: what good has the progress of mathematics as an intellectual discipline done for people?” Osler believes that if mathematicians had been trained to think about social justice, there would be less suffering in the world.

To read the entire article, follow this link: http://www.teacherplus.org/what-does-mathematics-have-to-do-with-social-justice


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