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Shooting for the Stars: A Case Study of the Mathematics Achievement and Career Attainment of an African American Male High School Student

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Abstract

The mathematics success of African American male adolescents has been given limited attention. Most often, African American males are viewed in terms of their failure as opposed to their success. This tendency to focus almost exclusively on African American failure is a debilitating feature of extant literature and it constrains our understanding of African American mathematics achievement. Malik Williams is one case that stands in opposition to the norm. Realizing the importance of advanced mathematics to his college and career goals, Malik petitioned his principal to have a Pre-Calculus/Calculus course offered at his school. This article documents the story of Malik's success and in so doing, identifies key themes that inform current understanding of the mathematics achievement and career attainment of African American male students.
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... Typically, there are no linkages to its meanings in the larger society or to the ways that racism is experienced as a result of these meanings (e.g., Kenney & Silver, 1997;Lubienski, 2002;Strutchens & Silver, 2000). Therefore, embedded in this first goal is a call for additional research on the everyday nature of racism in students' mathematical experiences (e.g., Berry 2003Berry , 2005Martin, 2000Martin, , 2006aMartin, , 2006bStinson, 2004;Thompson & Lewis, 2005) as well as the institutional and structural forces that allow racism to function in these experiences (Oakes, 1985(Oakes, , 1990Oakes, Joseph, & Muir, 2001). ...
... 3). It is this uneasiness, and unwillingness to truly engage the meanings for race and the consequences of these meanings that will make it difficult to improve conditions for students whose mathematical experiences, all the while, continue to be racialized (Berry, 2003(Berry, , 2005Martin, 2006aMartin, , 2006bStinson, 2004;Thompson & Lewis, 2005). ...
... Third, socially constructed meanings for race are important in the everyday contexts in which individual students must struggle for mathematics literacy and negotiate both their racial identities and their identities as doers of mathematics (e.g., Berry, 2003Berry, , 2005Cobb & Hodge, 2002;Gutstein, 2003;Martin 2000Martin , 2006aMartin , 2006bMartin , 2007Stinson, 2004). In many mathematics classrooms, teachers and students participate in a range of practices in which they develop, contest, and internalize beliefs about what counts as math literacy and who is mathematically literate, contributing to the construction of these classrooms as highly racialized spaces (e.g., Boaler, 2002;Martin, 2000;Nasir, Heimlich, Atukpawu, & O'Conner, 2007;Thompson & Lewis, 2005). However, research documenting these practices has only emerged in the last few years. ...
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Background Within mathematics education research, policy, and practice, race remains undertheorized in relation to mathematics learning and participation. Although race is characterized in the sociological and critical theory literatures as socially and politically constructed with structural expressions, most studies of differential outcomes in mathematics education begin and end their analyses of race with static racial categories and group labels used for the sole purpose of disaggregating data. This inadequate framing is, itself, reflective of a racialization process that continues to legitimize the social devaluing and stigmatization of many students of color. I draw from my own research with African American adults and adolescents, as well as recent research on the mathematical experiences of African American students conducted by other scholars. I also draw from the sociological and critical theory literatures to examine the ways that race and racism are conceptualized in the larger social context and in ways that are informative for mathematics education researchers, policy makers, and practitioners. Purpose To review and critically analyze how the construct of race has been conceptualized in mathematics education research, policy, and practice. Research Design Narrative synthesis. Conclusion Future research and policy efforts in mathematics education should examine racialized inequalities by considering the socially constructed nature of race.
... Scholars have argued that to understand the underrepresentation of Black students, researchers must consider the lack of advanced mathematics (and science) courses in predominantly Black schools across different income brackets and geographical locations (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995;Polite, 1999;Thompson & Lewis, 2005;Whiting & Ford, 2009). Consideration must also be given to the quality (e.g., teachers' content knowledge, pedagogy, and assignments) of advanced mathematics courses that Black (male) students have access to and take in high school. ...
... There is a limited body of research focused on the barriers that impact Black male students' participation in advanced mathematics courses (Polite, 1999;Thompson & Davis, 2013;Thompson & Lewis, 2005). Polite (1999) conducted a case study of a cohort of 115 lower-income and lower-middle class Black male students' academic experiences in a suburban high school mathematics department. ...
... In a single case study, Thompson and Lewis (2005) chronicled the mathematical experiences of a Black male student named Malik in a low-income urban high school. Recognizing the need to get accepted into a competitive college, he petitioned his principal to offer precalculus and calculus courses. ...
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Black male students are underrepresented in advanced mathematics programs and courses. White adults and students are the primary beneficiaries of these specialized mathematics options, thereby making them White institutional spaces. There has been a call to focus on the underrepresentation of Black male students in advanced mathematics courses. This article examines the scholarly literature about Black male students’ mathematical experiences. We conclude by providing recommendations for increasing Black male students’ representation in specialized mathematics spaces and how to use the knowledge to transform their lives and community.
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... 2) Many students in African countries show low levels of achievement in mathematics, and consequently in related disciplines that require knowledge and the practicable application of mathematics (Gerdes 1996, 230). Disparities faced by African-American students in the United States have also been well documented (Thompson & Lewis 2005). This is largely attributable to the fact that many learners and teachers (once learners themselves) experience mathematics as a foreign and incomprehensible subject, imported from outside Africa. ...
... Throughout the study summarized here, the student participants made several significant statements, which were used to identify the overarching themes of caring teacher-student relationships. As some of the literature suggests (McGee & Martin, 2011;Thompson & Lewis, 2005), motivation and self-efficacy were identified as reoccurring descriptors of the definition of teacher care. Teachers must not only convince their students but also convince themselves that male African Americans can succeed in mathematics. ...
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... Employing a critical postmodern theoretical framework, Stinson found that these African American men understood society's structures and negotiated racial discourses that surround African American men. Thompson and Lewis (2005) conducted a case study on Malik, an African American male high school student who petitioned to have another mathematics course added to his high school's mathematics curriculum, which ended with Honors Algebra 2. Understanding that he would need advanced mathematics to achieve his goal of becoming a pilot, Malik repeatedly went to the principal to request that a Pre-Calculus/Calculus course be offered. Because of his persistence, Malik's request was granted the next school year, and he solicited 30 of his African American peers to register for this advanced mathematics course. ...
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... The focus on successful and high-achieving Black students is one of the longest standing and most developed paradigm shifts. This body of research has given insight into the experiences of successful and high-achieving Black students at the K-12 and collegiate levels (Berry, 2008;Jett, 2011;Terry & McGee, 2012;Thompson & Davis, 2013;Thompson & Lewis, 2005). Success and high achievement most often have been defined based on grade point average, standardized test scores, and advanced placement course participation. ...
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