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Humanizing Mathematics: Students' Perspectives on Learning Math for Social Justice

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posted on 17.02.2017, 00:00 authored by Patricia M Buenrostro
This study centered around the experience of thirteen 12th grade students who participated in a mathematics class designed to engage them in the study of real-world issues through mathematics. That is, students learned mathematical concepts through their application to issues relevant to them and their communities. The class used mathematics as a lens to study four main thematic units: Voter Disenfranchisement, Displacement Forces (Deportation and Gentrification), AIDS, and Criminalization of Youth. In short, the youth that participated in the “Math for Social Justice” class (herein referred to as M4SJ) explored social issues plaguing their lives, their families, and their communities through the study of mathematics. As 12th grade students, this experience of using mathematics to learn about social issues was not an isolated incident. This class took place in a small school born out of a community struggle whose thematic focus as a school was social justice. This school is a neighborhood, non-selective enrollment high school located in Little Village, a low-income, mostly Mexican and immigrant community that also draws students from North Lawndale, the neighboring, low-income African-American community. This study focused on how students made sense of their experiences learning mathematics in order to understand social phenomena. For this study, 13 of the 21 students who participated in the M4SJ class were interviewed. Interviews served as a primary data source but the author drew on other sources student journals, and teacher and researcher field notes to explore the meaning students made from their involvement in the class. Student data revealed several themes. Students reported to have engaged learning rigorous mathematics in interdependent ways relying heavily on each other as intellectual resources to unpack the class material. The data revealed that students engaged with the material more readily because of the socio-political relevance it held for themselves, their families, and their communities in addition to building on their ever-evolving sense of justice and social agency. Students came to see a common struggle in their respective Black and Brown communities contributing to students’ racial and ethnic solidarity. Three students' stories are told narratively as well to further illustrate the impact of the class on their mathematical and social justice trajectories.



Gutstein, Eric R


Gutstein, Eric R


Curriculum & Instruction

Degree Grantor

University of Illinois at Chicago

Degree Level


Committee Member

Martin, Danny B Flores-Gonzalez, Nilda Turner, Erin E Radinsky, Joshua

Submitted date

December 2016

Issue date