Using mathematics to attain critical consciousness.

Author:Shibti, Shareen
Position:Teaching Notes - Viewpoint essay

For a student teacher, walking into the classroom--stepping onto someone else's turf--can be intimidating. For a student teacher who is teaching for social justice, walking into that same classroom can be terrifying. Teaching for social justice is a difficult task. It is especially difficult when you know the discourse that will take place while addressing these issues may not always be "politically correct." However, as Paulo Freire suggests, engaging in classroom discourse is when real transformation occurs.

On my first day of student teaching, I told my 12th-grade students that my goal was to open their eyes to the injustices of the world--using mathematics as our main tool. I anticipated that I, as the new teacher, could instill a passion for mathematics into these students from day one. I was quickly humbled. Trying to convince high school students that mathematics is relevant has been a huge challenge. Although there were times it felt as though my lessons were not getting through to them, I recently conducted a lesson on poverty which made me realize that my students were becoming more critically aware than I had thought.

Since 70% of the school population consisted of low-income minorities, I initially hoped that my students would embrace the integration of social justice into their math lessons. However, I had struggled with the issue of poverty in past lessons because the discourse quickly turned into a chain of stereotypical and self-deprecating racist "jokes." I told my students that, although I did not want to censor their thoughts, I wanted them to understand that the comments they make, although considered "jokes," continue to perpetuate social, economical, and cultural problems that are very real and oppressive. After that discussion, students seemed to realize that their "jokes" were, in reality, insensitive and offensive comments that can retard the progress we might make as a society.

I handed my students a table that displayed the Federal government's poverty guidelines and also an alternative guideline--the Self-Sufficiency Standard put out by the Center for Women's Welfare (http://www.selfsufficiencystandard. org/standard.html). The Self-Sufficiency Standard declares that different households have different needs, based on factors such as the number and age of children in...

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