Social Justice in Mathematics 

Reading to complement this blog ( This article really inspired me to think about how math modeling can be a powerful way to heighten awareness as well as take action in the locally to make a change.)

Through the Lens of Social Justice: Acknowledgment, Actions, and Accountability (TODOS/NCSM, 2015) write, affirming the value in presenting “mathematics as an analytical tool to understand, critique, and transform the world,” and proceeding to argue that “facilitating student mathematical proficiencies that transcend textbooks and promote quantitative literacy, civic engagement, as well as individual and collective agency, is a social justice act of mathematics education.”  (National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics and TODOS: Mathematics for All, 2015). 

The NCTM also appears to hold the view that mathematics for social justice should be incorporated into the mathematics classroom. Key Recommendations” in the 2018 publication Catalyzing Change in High School Mathematics: Initiating Critical Conversations, includes a call for providing students with opportunities to “determine whether or not claims made in scientific, economic, social, and political arenas are valid,” arguing that “Never have the broader aims of mathematics education been more important than they are today, when mathematics underlies much of the fabric of society” (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2018).

The article linked above from state that “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

“Environmental justice is really concerned with documenting and understanding the disproportionate and unequal environmental burdens that certain communities face,” Dr. Dorceta Taylor, Professor of Environmental Justice at the Yale School of the Environment, says. “In the United States and around the world, low-income, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and Asian people tend to be living in spaces where environmental hazards, extreme natural and human-made disasters, and environmental degradation occur more rampantly.”

The disproportionate distribution of environmental hazards to “the poorest, brownest and blackest people” is no coincidence; as Taylor puts it, “that is by design.”
In fact, Dr. G. Torres, Professor of Environmental Justice at the Yale School of the Environment and the Yale Law School, explains that the term originated in the 1990s following the results of a study of the placement of federally mandated hazardous waste sites, which found that the bulk of the toxic areas were located in African American communities. Resulting claims of environmental racism, he says, launched environmental justice into the public eye.
Disaster response is another area where inequity is blatant-
As natural disasters and weather unpredictability are both expected to become more severe in coming years, institutional environmental racism will undoubtedly create disparities in disaster response. Dr. Torres cites insufficient distributions of recovery funding to poor, mostly Black communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Puerto Rican communities after Hurricane Maria in 2019.

Safe and affordable drinking water is a human right and it is especially critical that people have access to safe running water during the current COVID-19 pandemic. But nearly 130 million people in the U.S. — disproportionately in communities of color and low-income communities — receive their water from systems that often puts them at increased risk of cancer, infertility, developmental delays, and other health impacts.

Despite the Safe Drinking Water Act, pollution of drinking water sources, decades of poor oversight, underinvestment in drinking water infrastructure, and segregation and other forms of discrimination, have left people — especially communities of color — at greater risk. Water systems across the country are still using old lead service lines, and tens of millions of us are drinking toxic PFAS chemicals. 

Thinking more deeply about …

Eric Gutstein, 2007. Connecting community, critical, and classical knowledge in teaching mathematics for social justice. TMME, Monograph 1, pp. 109-118.


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