Mathematics Education as Sociopolitical: Prospective Teachers’ Views of the What, Who, and How

February, 2017

Source: Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, Volume 20, Issue 1, (2017) 49–74

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study examines how prospective teachers (PTs) perceive social justice in K-12 mathematics.

The author used a framework—the What, Who, and How (WWH) of mathematics. This framework asks mathematics teachers to consider What messages they send about mathematics and the world, Whose perspectives are represented in mathematics, and How mathematical concepts and their world are related. The author used this framework as a means of understanding the PTs’ views and his own instruction.
The study was conducted in two universities in USA. The participants were 55 prospective teachers (PTs). The author identified the vast majority of them as White and non-Hispanic. One participant was female.
 The author teaches courses, which include in-class lessons, homework assignments, a semester project, and reflection assignments. For the projects, the author asks PTs to connect mathematics to a sociopolitical issue or to explore the mathematics of a cultural group.
The author collected data through PTs’ responses to the homework and reflection assignments.

The author argues that the framework of What, Who, How serves as a tool to understand prospective teachers’ views, to navigate a broad range of literature on social justice mathematics, and a means of informing the practice of teachers and teacher educators.
The author claims that the WWH may help identify views that are more easily accepted by PTs.

The author also indicates benefits of the WWH framework. It can serve as a tool for teasing out different dimensions of PTs’ views about the social and political aspects of teaching mathematics. This framework can also support research that examines how these views are interrelated.
The author explains that mathematics can be coconstructed as White and middle class if it consistently serves as a mirror for learners with those backgrounds and fails to do so for other groups. Furthermore, he argues that mathematics can function as a mirror for students either through the topics investigated for social analysis or through the mathematical approach taken. The author argues that if one of these approaches is positioned as the official form of school mathematics, then it causes mathematics to function as a mirror for some groups and not others.

The WWWH framework can also inform instructional practice of mathematics educators. There are multiple forms, or genres, of mathematics and each genre involves a unique set of expectations for participation. The WWH framework asks teacher educators to reconsider what it means to know and understand mathematics.
The author argues that in particular, the How dimension emerged in part from tensions he experienced between focusing on mathematical knowledge for teaching and integrating issues of equity into his course. By reflecting on the PTs’ limited ability to articulate how mathematics and the world may be related in the classroom, he has continued to improve his own teaching by developing a broader range of mathematical tasks that can serve to illustrate different kinds of relationships between the world and mathematical concepts.

Updated: Nov. 18, 2018