Math and Social Injustice
by Jack Ucifferri
When you walk into a typical math class on a typical day in almost any school, you'll notice that most of the students are bored and distracted. That, believes Jonathan Osler, founder of RadicalMath, is a social justice issue.
"Math classes should give students the tools to better understand their reality. Who cares if
'Train A goes x+4 times faster than train B' when your community isn't adequately served by public transportation?"
Traditional math curricula don't teach students how to compare the density of check-cashers to banks in low-income communities, evaluate college loan plans to determine which offer the most favorable rates, or analyze data on rates of diabetes and asthma in communities of color. Lesson plans for addressing all of these issues can be found at RadicalMath.org, a free website for educators interested in integrating issues of economic and social justice into their math classes.
"I believe in engaging and empowing students to learn about issues that are relevant to their lives and communities," says RadicalMath founder, Jonathan Osler, who taught in a public high school in Brooklyn, New York for six years and now coaches math teachers in a public high school in Los Angeles. "But there were no sources of information for how I could integrate social justice issues into my math classes, so I began writing my own curricula and posting it online." Two years later, RadicalMath contains over 800 lesson plans, data sets, and articles, has received over 1,000,000 page views, and has drawn visitors from all over the world.
Osler explains that it is critical for students to graduate from high school with strong math skills, prepared for math-based college majors and careers. But equally strong is his belief that in order to address our country's most pressing problems, young people need to become agents for change in their lives and communities, and math is a tool that can help them do so.
RadicalMath.org contains information on dozens of issues including racial profiling, immigration, global warming, and the criminal justice system. There are also numerous financial education resources and lesson plans on economic topics such as minimum vs. living wage, predatory lending, the mathematics of the lottery, and home ownership.
Last April, Osler, along with several other RadicalMath contributors, organized a national conference to discuss teaching math through a social justice lens. This first annual "Creating Balance in an Unjust World" conference drew over 500 educators, activists, parents and students from around the country to Brooklyn, NY. Osler and the other organizers expect to draw twice as many participants to this year's conference.