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"Returning to the Root" of the Problem: Improving the social condition of African Americans through Science and Mathematics Education



The underachievement and underrepresentation of African Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines have been well documented. Efforts to improve the STEM education of African Americans continue to focus on relationships between teaching and learning and factors such as culture, race, power, class, learning preferences, cultural styles and language. Although this body of literature is deemed valuable, it fails to help STEM teacher educators and teachers critically assess other important factors such as pedagogy and curriculum. In this article, the authors argue that both pedagogy and curriculum should be centered on the social condition of African Americans – thus promoting mathematics learning and teaching that aim to improve African communities worldwide.
Catalyst: A Social Justice Forum, 2017 Vol. 7, Issue 1
Author Footnote: Please direct all correspondence to Vanessa Pitts Bannister at
Florida A&M University
Bowie State University
Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis
Laurel, MD
Florida A&M University
The underachievement and underrepresentation of African Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering
and Mathematics) disciplines have been well documented. Efforts to improve the STEM education of African
Americans continue to focus on relationships between teaching and learning and factors such as culture, race,
power, class, learning preferences, cultural styles and language. Although this body of literature is deemed
valuable, it fails to help STEM teacher educators and teachers critically assess other important factors such as
pedagogy and curriculum. In this article, the authors argue that both pedagogy and curriculum should be centered
on the social condition of African Americans thus promoting mathematics learning and teaching that aim to
improve African communities worldwide.
Accentuating Social Transformation: A Mathematics Curricular Approach
Driving Purpose behind African-American STEM1 Education
Historically, scholarship on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and
mathematics) education of African Americans has focused largely on the achievement disparity
between African Americans and their non-African-American peers. (Cohen, Garcia, Purdie-
Vaughns, Apfel, & Brzustoski, 2009; Lewis & Collins, 2001; Lewis, Pitts, & Collins, 2002;
Lubienski, 2002; Maple & Stage, 1991). Some researchers have criticized this approach as a
one-dimensional treatment that pathologizes African-American youth and emphasizes their
perceived failure. (Martin, 2009; Norman, Ault, Bentz, & Meskimen, 2001). Even the growing
body of research examining success and high achievement among African-American learners
(Berry III, 2008; McGee & Martin, 2011; Thompson & Davis, 2013; Thompson & Lewis, 2005)
is, to some degree, a response to this prevailing discourse of African-American pathology. With
disparity firmly established as “the problem” of African-American STEM education, much of the
scholarship in this area has been aimed at leveling the disparity.
As researchers, we have focused so intently on leveling disparity by focusing on
relationships between teaching and learning and factors such as culture, race, power, class
(Martin, 2006; Weissglass, 2002; DiME, 2007), learning preferences (Hilliard, 1989; Malloy,
1997), cultural styles (Malloy, 1997; Moody, 1998) and language (Orr, 1987). While such
efforts certainly have value, they fail to question whether “leveling disparity” is beneficial for
African-American STEM learners. We have tacitly accepted the idea that the purpose of STEM
education as articulated by STEM education reform efforts (e.g. National Council of Teachers of
Mathematics, 2000; National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, 2010; National
Research Council, 1996) is in the best interest of African-American STEM learners. Thompson,
Mutegi, and Davis (in review) challenge the assumed benefit of leveling disparity by
(a) identifying a set of assumptions about disparity that drives the work of some
STEM education researchers, and (b) arguing for nation building as a driving
purpose for the STEM education of African2 people.
The study by Thompson, Mutegi, and Davis (in review) began when Thompson
questioned the purpose behind STEM education disparity scholarship. She asked, “Why is it
important that we have more African Americans in mathematics? Blacks are overrepresented
among NBA players and underrepresented among NHL players. What makes this a problem?
Can’t society function well if different groups of people gravitate to different professions or
occupations?” To answer this question, she interviewed three, highly regarded mathematics
1According to the H.R. 1020 (114th): STEM Education Act of 2015, STEM education means education in the
subjects of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, including computer science. Activities related to
STEM education may incorporate one or more of the STEM disciplines. For this reason, we refer to mathematics
education and/or science education as STEM education.
2 We operate from a Pan Africanist perspective. As such, we regard the social, historical, and cultural
challenges facing African Americans to be localized manifestations of social, historical and cultural challenges that
face people of African descent throughout the diaspora. In this spirit, we invoke the term “African” to characterize
people of African descent regardless of where they happen to be on the planet. When we invoke more specific terms,
such as “African American,” it is to reflect the characterization used by other authors or to distinguish a particular
group of African people from the global African family. This treatment is consistent with our other work in this area
(Mutegi, 2011, 2013).!
Catalyst: A Social Justice Forum, 2017 Vol. 7, Issue 1
education researchers. The experts she interviewed were well-published authors whose work
evinced a long-term commitment to increasing the representation of African Americans in
STEM. Two open-ended questions guided her interviews. The first question was, “In your
opinion, why should educators be concerned about the underrepresentation of African Americans
in mathematics?” The second question was, “What are some benefits of having African
Americans pursue mathematics careers?”
The mathematics education researchers interviewed gave three reasons for the necessity
of increasing the representation of African Americans in mathematics. These were (a) to
establish an African-American presence in STEM fields that will dispel myths surrounding the
intellectual capabilities of African Americans; (b) to increase the level of African-American
contribution to the technological advancements of this country; and (c) to create a level of
critical thinking among African Americans as a means towards social change. These reasons
serve to lay bare implicitly held assumptions about the purpose of African-American STEM
education scholarship. They reveal a perceived need for people of African descent to gain social
acceptance and to make national contributions through their STEM work.
In response, Thompson et al. (in review), suggest that STEM education could also (and
perhaps more effectively) be driven by a “liberatory agenda” with the goal of building and
improving “the status of Black people globally.” Drawing from the work of Kwame Akoto
(1992), they characterize this effort as “Nationbuilding.” We have found that the work of
Thompson et al. as well as that of Akoto resonates strongly with STEM education research on
social justice. Our objective in this paper is to draw from the spirit of scholars like Thompson et
al. and Akoto, to describe how social justice-oriented STEM education might look in practice,
specifically in the area of mathematics education. To accomplish this objective, we will first
provide an overview of social justice mathematics scholarship. We will then detail one of the
curricular approaches drawn from this body of work. The curricular approach detailed (Mutegi,
2011) provides guidance for modifying traditional STEM content (specifically in the area of
science) to meet the purpose of educators committed to nationbuilding and social justice. We
conclude by demonstrating the application of that model to the mathematical study of
Historical and Contemporary Perspectives of Social Justice in Mathematics Education
In mathematics education, scholars have a long history of trying to achieve social justice.
A review of this history reveals that varied perspectives have been used to discuss social justice
approaches in mathematics education. The major focus of social justice approaches is to
illustrate the social and political dimensions of mathematics and mathematics education and to
challenge the perceived neutrality, objectivity and cultural neutrality of mathematics (Vithal &
Skovsmose, 1997). Historically, the main terminology used by scholars to discuss social justice
approaches in mathematics education were “critical mathematics” (Frankenstein, 1987) and
“teaching mathematics for social justice” (Gutstein, 2003). Marilyn Frankenstein and Eric
Gutstein are considered leading scholars in the development of social justice perspectives in
mathematics education. These scholars have drawn on Paolo Freire’s theory to advance social
justice approaches in mathematics education. In particular, Frankenstein (1983) asserts:
Applying Freire's theory to mathematics education directs our attention to how most
current uses of mathematics support hegemonic ideologies, how mathematics education
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also reinforces hegemonic ideologies, and how critical mathematics education can
develop critical understanding and lead to critical action. (p. 327)
Aligned with this perspective, Powell and Frankenstein (1994) challenged the Eurocentric
perspective that pervades mathematics to advance the concept of ethnomathematics to achieve
social justice. Even though Frankenstein and Powell contributed intellectually to
ethnomathematics, d’Ambrosio (1985) is often considered the “father of ethnomathematics.”
Ethnomathematics seeks to connect culture and mathematics (d’Ambrosio, 2001). Vithal and
Skovsmose (1997) suggest that ethnomathematics primarily involves cultural and social issues.
There are four strands of ethnomathematics (a) challenging the traditional history of
mathematics, (b) examining traditional cultures of mathematics for colonized people, (c)
exploring groups’ everyday use of mathematics, and (d) examining the relationship between
ethnomathematics and mathematics education.
Gutstein (2007) indicates “the goal of teaching (mathematics) for social justice [is]
that students become agents of social change and join in, and eventually lead, the struggles
to remake our world for peace and justice” (p. 116). According to Gutstein (2007), teaching
(mathematics) for social justice is accomplished through interplay of the three C’s –
community knowledge, critical knowledge and classical knowledge. Community
knowledge is defined as the compilation of knowledge that is brought to a central location
such as school. In particular, it “involves several different but related components of
knowledge and culture [and] refers to what people already know and bring to school with
them” (p. 110). Critical knowledge is comprehension concerning the sociopolitical
environment of an individual’s current and extensive reality. More specifically, it entails
“knowledge about the sociopolitical conditions of one’s immediate and broader existence”
(p. 110). Classical knowledge is the acquisition of the systematic rituals of classroom,
abstract learning.
In more recent times, the language Frankenstein and Gutstein use to discuss critical
mathematics and teaching mathematics for social justice has evolved. Critical mathematics is
now referred to as “criticalmathematical literacy” (Frankenstein, 2012) and teaching
mathematics for social justice is often referred to as “teaching and learning mathematics for
social justice” (Gutstein, 2003, 2006, 2012). Frankenstein’s and Gutstein’s social justice
frameworks provide a lens to re-examine African-American STEM education. In particular,
what is the nature of STEM education that positions African Americans to use their knowledge
of their community in conjunction with critical knowledge of sociopolitical issues to learn
classical knowledge of mathematics to effect social change? It is our contention that the
mathematics education for Africans must be grounded in their community knowledge and
developed in response to the current social conditions of Africans throughout the Diaspora.
“Returning to the Root” of African Tradition
One of Gutstein’s collaborators, Tate (2005) framed his social justice scholarship on
African-American students. While Gutstein has created social justice mathematical tasks
focused on African-American issues (e.g., racial profiling, home buying while Black, etc.), his
work has not exclusively focused on African-American students. It also focuses on Latino/a
students. Tate is one of the first mathematics education scholars to amass a body of scholarship
focused on race, racism, Afrocentricity, social justice and the lived realities of African-American
students in mathematics education (Tate, 1993, 1995, 2013). From a research, theoretical and
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conceptual perspective, Tate connected and centered Afrocentricity and social justice
pedagogical approaches in African-American students’ mathematics education. He reported
information about their cultural and community knowledge and experiences learning
mathematics. Tate’s use of Afrocentricity represents the “power of returning to the root of
African tradition” (1995, p. 172).
Operating in a similar paradigm, Anderson’s (2005) contribution to social justice focused
on the Africans contribution to mathematics. In doing so, he challenged the dominant European
perspective of mathematics (Anderson, 1990; 2005). Anderson advocates for students to learn
about African peoples’ contribution to mathematics and help students to understand that white
men were not the only people to make contributions to mathematics. In fact, he contends that
students should know that Europeans studied in Africa to learn mathematics from Black people.
Building on Tate (2005) and Anderson’s (2005) Afrocentric perspectives of mathematics,
Martin and McGee (2009) advanced a liberatory perspective of mathematics education for
African-American students rooted in Afrocentricity. While their use of liberation is not unique
in mathematics, as Powell and Frankenstein (1994) also advanced notions of liberatory
mathematics, Martin and McGee’s perspective is unique in that they identify African-centered
thought and practice as key tools for achieving liberation for African Americans. The use of the
term liberation is a reframing of social justice rooted in the history and traditions of African
Americans’ fight for freedom.
Introducing critical race theory into the mathematics education social justice discourse,
Terry (2010, 2011) focuses on the most underserved and underrepresented population: African-
American males. He engaged African-American males in social justice oriented mathematics
using socially, culturally, and contextually relevant topics, data and pedagogical approaches.
Using critical race theory’s notion of counter storytelling, Terry developed and called for the use
of mathematical counterstories as a social justice pedagogical approach to engage Black males.
He argues that African-American males are looking for opportunities to critically examine
issues, data and mathematics that directly relate to their lives.
Continuing in the tradition of using critical race theory, Larnell, Bullock, & Jett (2016)
seek to broaden the possibilities of social justice scholarship in mathematics education. More
specifically, these scholars use a critical race perspective to shed light on the role and operations
of race, racism and racial injustice within the teaching and learning mathematics for social
justice discourse. Larnell and colleagues use select tenets of critical race theory to offer new
perspectives and conceptualizations of teaching and learning mathematics for social justice.
Racial realism, interest convergence, critique of liberalism, intersectionality, and counter-
storytelling are the tenets of critical race theory that Larnell and associates use to expose “blank
and blind spots’ with respect to race, racism, and racialization” (p. 27). Furthermore, Larnell et
al suggest that incorporating critical race theory into the teaching and learning of mathematics
for social justice discourse illuminates the necessity to address intersectionality and complexity
of multiple forms oppression and injustice impacting groups.
Based on the available literature, it can be argued that social justice approaches in
mathematics education started with ethnomathematics and critical mathematics. The literature
also reveals that the history of social justice approaches in mathematics has not exclusively
focused on African Americans. This scholarly area has focused on diverse cultural groups. The
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exclusive focus on African Americans has mainly come from the scholarship of African-
American scholars (Martin & McGee, 2009; Terry, 2010, 2011).
We continue to advance social justice perspectives and approaches to mathematics by
building on this history. We contribute to this existing body of literature by illustrating the
application of socially transformative science curriculum as described by Mutegi (2011) to
mathematics education. We use this model for several reasons. First, this model focuses
explicitly on addressing problems plaguing African people all over the world. Second, it seeks
to position learners of African descent as agents of change in their community. It also seeks to
inform African learners about the system of racism (white supremacy), help them to recognize
how it impacts their academic and social development, and prepare them to struggle for power
against this system. This model of socially transformative curriculum argues that we should
engage students of African descent in critical discourse about their social conditions and their use
of scientific knowledge to change those conditions.
Understanding Socially Transformative STEM Curriculum
The model of socially transformative science curriculum described by Mutegi (2011)
draws heavily from (and reflects the commitments of) critical pedagogists (e.g. Allen, 2004;
Freire, 1970; Macedo, 1993). The overriding purpose of this approach is to position learners of
African descent to (a) become aware of systemic racism, (b) understand how it is established and
maintained, and (c) work to change it. According to Mutegi (2011), this purpose can be
accomplished when teachers plan curricula that help learners of African descent to attain mastery
in each of five areas. These are: content, currency, context, critique, and conduct. Mastery of
content positions students to better understand the content. It empowers students to answer
what- when- where- and how-type questions about the topic. The second area of mastery is
currency. Mastery of currency positions students to better understand how the topic is related to
human beings. The third area of mastery is context. Mastery of context positions students to
better understand how the topic is related to people of African descent. The fourth area of
mastery is critique. Mastery of critique positions students to better understand how the topic is
related to systemic racism. The final area of mastery is conduct. Mastery of conduct positions
students to use their emerging knowledge to effect social change. These areas of mastery and the
questions they inspire are tools that teachers can use to create or modify curriculum with the
intention of teaching for social justice.
Accentuating Social Transformation: A Curricular Approach
Throughout the K-12 pipeline, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics
(NCTM) and the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) advocate for combinatorics
to be in sync with the mathematics curricula being used in schools (National Council of
Teachers of Mathematics, 1989, 2000). However, the mathematics curriculum in schools
serving large populations of African-American students rarely or most times never expose
them to combinatorics or any other advanced mathematics content (Ladson-Billings & Tate,
1995; Lubienski, 2001, 2002; Oakes, 1990; Strutchens & Silver, 2000; Tate, 1997) that can
be used to improve the conditions of African communities locally and globally. Nkwanta,
Hill, Swamy and Peters (2011) provided high school teachers in Baltimore city public
schools with a week-long professional development workshop focused on connecting
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mathematics and biology and to help them integrate computations into biology courses.
More specifically, Nkwanta and associates used the workshop to:
use lattice walks and RNA secondary structures as a way of introducing teachers to
enumerative combinatorics integrated with molecular biology… By demonstrating
and explaining the importance of integrating mathematics and biology, an objective
was to give teachers a sense of how mathematical concepts could be applied to
certain adverse health conditions. For example, considering adverse health
conditions such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, HIV, and AIDS, it was demonstrated in
the workshop that enumerative combinatorics could be used as a tool to help predict
RNA structures for the development of more favorable health conditions (p.82).
The health conditions Nkwanta and associates identify significantly impact African
communities all over the world. In this article, we use the model of socially transformative
STEM curriculum to describe how combinatorics can be used to address the HIV/AIDS
epidemic impacting African communities locally and globally.
In their articulation of mathematics literacy as a civil rights issue, Moses and Cobb
(2001) point out that,
the importance of algebra [in the U.S.] has emerged with the new technology. It
didn’t have to be algebra… In France, geometry is the driving force of the math and
technology education. So, there’s nothing that says it has to be algebra. There’s
nothing that says it has to be geometry. (p.14)
Similarly, in K-12 schools across the country, there is nothing that says combinatorics
cannot be taught to African-American students to help them improve conditions impacting
their community locally and globally. An alternative approach is needed to teach African-
American students to use their knowledge of combinatorics and other mathematical topics to
improve the conditions of African communities worldwide.
Social Transformation through Combinatorics
Mutegi (2011) drew from the work of critical curriculum theorists to develop a
model for science curriculum that positions students of African descent to improve their
social condition. Here we will illustrate the applicability of Mutegi’s approach to
mathematics education by providing an example of a curriculum unit on combinatorics. As
mentioned, the first area of mastery is content. Mastery of content empowers students to
answer questions such as, “What is combinatorics? How does combinatorics work? Where is
combinatorics used?” The mathematical content presented to students of African descent
about combinatorics must get them to see that the study of combinatorics includes
permutations, enumeration, combinations, arrangements, and formulas. It must equip them
to see that combinatorics is one of the oldest branches of discrete mathematics that is
deemed an essential concept for solving problems using computer methods and is regarded
as the mathematics of systematic counting (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics,
1989, 2000; Sriraman & English, 2004).
Catalyst: A Social Justice Forum, 2017 Vol. 7, Issue 1
The second area of mastery is currency. Mastery of currency empowers students to
answer questions such as, “How and where is combinatorics used by humans? How does
the application of combinatorics impact mankind in daily life?” Instructional dialogue on
combinatorics could equip African-American students to explore (a) the global importance
of computers nationwide, (b) the importance of computers for international warfare (c)
computer scientist use of combinatorics to advance modern technology, (d) medical
professional use of combinatorics to match symptoms with proper medicine, (e) scientist’s
use of combinatorics to find a cure for diseases (e.g. HIV/AIDS, cancer, etc.), and (f)
industrial use of combinatorics for modernizing manufacturing distribution.
The third area of mastery is context. Mastery of context empowers students to
answer questions such as, “In what ways is combinatorics important to people of African
descent? How has it been used by African people historically or in modern times? In its
application, how does it impact the daily lives of African people?” The context of
instructional dialogue on combinatorics could prepare African students to understand how
combinatorics could be used in service of African people. For example, it could be used as
STEM professionals of African descent work to (a) find a cure for HIV/AIDS, malaria,
asthma, cancer, and other health problems experienced by African people, (b) develop
businesses for African people to capitalize on their inventions (e.g. traffic lights, blood
preservation, and polymers), and (c) create housing and buildings for businesses in African
communities in order to develop an economic base.
The fourth area of mastery is critique. Mastery of critique empowers students to
answer questions such as, “How can my understanding of combinatorics help me to better
understand the mechanisms by which systemic racism is established and maintained?” The
instructional discourse surrounding these questions would engage African students to use
their knowledge of combinatorics to investigate systemic racism as a result of (a) denying
African students access to courses and knowledge of combinatorics and other higher level
mathematics topics that can be used to improve the conditions (e.g. housing, health, etc.) of
their community and develop an economic foundation for African people, (b) high rates of
health problems (e.g., heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, etc.) affecting African people and
the lack of medical care to remedy their health problems or find a cure for the global
HIV/AIDS epidemic, and (c) the lack of economic stability in African communities globally.
The fifth area of mastery is conduct. Mastery of conduct empowers students to
answer questions such as, “How can I use my understanding of combinatorics to improve the
social condition of African people? Instructional dialogue about African-American students
conduct should equip them to use their knowledge base to (a) work with scientists (e.g.
biologists, etc.) to locate better or more stable SL12 and SL3 components of HIV-RNA
sequence to aid African people in their efforts to find a cure for the global HIV/AIDS
epidemic, (b) develop businesses to distribute African peoples inventions (e.g. traffic signal,
peanut products, etc.) to become self-sufficient, and (c) work with computer scientists,
engineers, and architects to create housing and buildings for businesses in African
communities in order to develop an economic base.
Concluding Comments
The five areas of mastery (i.e., content, context, currency, critique and conduct) are
drawn from Mutegi’s (2011) description of socially transformative science curriculum. In this
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article, we juxtaposed this work against similar work in mathematics education to develop an
alternative curricular approach to prepare African people to address the social realities of their
community. This curricular approach builds on the work of several scholars who accentuate
“what to teach” and “why we teach” (Anderson, 1990; Martin, 2007; Tate, 1995). In particular,
the proposed curricular approach meets the purpose of educators committed to nationbuilding
and social justice in that the approaches are viewed and contextualized in ways aimed at
changing the lives and mathematics education experiences of peopled of African descent. To
ignore the potential of the proposed curricular approach to inform efforts to meet the needs of
African-American STEM learners “is to be like the man who was looking for a lost coin two
blocks away from where it was lost because the light was better at the new spot. If he were to
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... At all levels of science education-K-12 and postsecondary education-Black students have lower levels of participation, persistence, and completion rates than their White counter-parts. The underrepresentation of Black students in STEM has gained national attention to focus on equity efforts to increase their participation (Pitts Bannister, Davis, Mutegi, Thompson, and Lewis 2017). However, scholars have questioned the motives behind fostering equity concerns (Rodriguez and Morrison 2019). ...
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The contributions, participation, and exploitation of Black people within science and science education are devalued within the cannon of science teaching and learning. This in part is due to the Eurocentric nature of science and education. As a result, Black youth participate in science regularly; however, it is overlooked, not recognized, and/or misinterpreted within formal learning experiences. In this qualitative case study, the authors address this tension through the oral traditions of storytelling which historicize Black excellence in science while centering the voices and engagement of youth as scientists. This work is guided by critical race theory as a means of critiquing science education and its practices. While presenting a counter-narrative to mainstream science descriptions of Black youth, the authors posit the role of liberatory science education for Black learners.
... Part of this newfound understanding involves naming and unpacking the underlying ideologies of science, specifically science epistemology, and how it facilitates the perpetuation of anti-Blackness through K-12 science instruction. Bannister et al., 2017). Despite the fact that there have been and continues to be a vast number of scientific discoveries and innovations made by Black people (e.g., Johnson, 2017;Menon, 2021;Rusert, 2017), what is still officially recognized and subsequently taught through K-12 science is content and practices that center and privilege whiteness. ...
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This paper calls for a critical reimagination of science epistemology and praxis by advocating for a move toward Black liberation in and through K-12 science education. This call is driven by our desires as authors to foster a future of K-12 science teaching and learning that centers, embraces, and promotes historical and contemporary Black scientific innovation and creativity through practices that redress structural anti-Black racism and its implications on Black existence and life. Black Liberatory K-12 Science Education (BLKSE) names the existing challenges with cultivating and empowering Black minds in and through science as a result of anti-Black ideologies that ground and govern K-12 science access, teaching and learning. In naming said challenges as the manifestations of anti-Black ideologies, we shed light on the roles of K-12 science teachers and science teacher education regarding the treatment of Black students given oppressive policies and practices that fail to recognize Black brilliance and innovation. By advocating for a push toward BLKSE, we offer guiding concepts we feel are necessary to begin the process of rooting out anti-Blackness; a process that centers a holistic, heterogenous form of Blackness at the crux of science inquiry and understanding. As a result of this perspec- tive, BLKSE embraces the beauty and creativity of Black youth, naming their positions and ideas as forms of scientific knowledge and inquiry, while disrupting existing mainstream paradigms and practices in science education. Implications for ways to work toward BLKSE in K-12 science teaching and teacher education are provided.
... In other writings on socially transformative curriculum (Mutegi, 2013b;Mutegi & Morton, 2012;Mutegi et al., 2018;Pitts Bannister et al., 2017), Mutegi and colleagues argue that science education for learners of African descent should prepare them to fight against systemic racism. Additionally, one area of mastery in this curricular approach is critique: wherein students work to apply their knowledge of science to an understanding of how systemic racism is established and maintained. ...
Although the Next Generation Science Standards and the National Science Education Standards prioritize the production of critical consumers of science as an overarching goal, there is relatively little science education research aimed at fostering critical perspectives among science teachers. The purpose of this theory-generative study is to identify ideas that might serve as affordances or hindrances to the development of critical perspectives of science. Data were collected from 64, preservice elementary-level teachers, over the course of three semesters, using an open-ended survey. In these data, we identified three affordances and five hindrances that might influence our ability to foster critical perspectives. Among the affordances for fostering critical perspectives, we found that students (a) have a clear sense that cultural difference does not suggest inferiority, (b) have a clear sense that human bias influences science work, and (c) regard opinion as a factor shaping the work of scientists. Among the hindrances to fostering critical perspectives we found that students (d) regard Western science as superior to non-Western science, (e) do not have a strong working knowledge of the concept of “culture,” (f) regard science as an objective enterprise, (g) do not have a strong working knowledge of the concept of “objective,” and (h) have a one-sided view of scientific advancement. We conclude with suggestions for future research and for practice.
... The goal of socially transformative curriculum is to help children develop the tools they need to "transform" the society in which they live (Freire 1970;Pitts Bannister et al. 2017). I especially like this goal for the students that I teach because many hope to one day change their social circumstances. ...
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As a fifth-year teacher in an urban middle school, I have become keenly aware of how important it is to provide my students, who are predominantly African American, with culturally responsive classroom experiences. In this application of socially transformative science curriculum, I began with a traditional lesson on atoms, molecules, and compounds and modified two activities within the lesson. Explanation (20 minutes) The explanation portion of the lesson is aimed at facilitating students' understandings of the differences between atoms, molecules, and compounds. To begin this portion of the lesson, students are provided with a Venn diagram featuring bubbles for molecules, compounds, and atoms as well as brief descriptions of each (see Figure 2). [Extracted from the article]
... The researchers point out that they are not sure how coding and robotics can provide social justice and they draw attention to the importance of their research on how to implement STEM education within the framework of social justice. In their study on the inadequacy of African Americans in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) fields, Bannister, Davis, Mutegi, Thompson, and Lewis (2017) emphasise regarding this failure in STEM fields that it is not sufficient to focus on the relationships among factors such as culture, race, power, class, learning preferences, cultural styles and language. In consideration of the necessity for STEM teacher educators and teachers to focus on the social situation of African-Americans when structuring pedagogy and other important factors like education content, the researchers provided a framework on how learning and teaching of mathematics can be carried out for this disadvantaged group. ...
... Fortunately, there has been a paradigm shift in mathematics education focused on advancing liberatory (Martin, 2010;Martin & McGee, 2009), social justice (Terry, 2010(Terry, , 2011, and racial justice (Gutstein, 2004;Larnell, Bullock, & Jett, 2016) for Black (male) students. This shift is built on a long history of scholars illustrating the social and political dimensions of mathematics and mathematics education by challenging the notions of Eurocentric origins, approaches, and perceptions of mathematics (Davis, 2018;Pitts Bannister, Davis, Mutegi, Thompson, & Lewis, 2017). For example, Terry (2011) reported that social justice-oriented mathematics lessons (e.g., Black male prison and college population, homicide rates, statistics, graphs, data analysis) transformed high school-aged Black male students lives and mathematical understanding in a participatory action research study. ...
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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.
... In response to this, their education should be one that positions them to dismantle systemic racism. Building on the work of critical theorists (e.g., Allen, 2004;Freire, 1970;Macedo, 1993), Mutegi and colleagues have applied the notion of socially transformative curriculum to both science (Mutegi, Lewis, & Smith-Mutegi, 2017;Mutegi & Morton, 2012) and mathematics (Pitts Bannister, Davis, Mutegi, Thompson, & Lewis, 2017). ...
This chapter is a description of practice grounded in the idea that the primary problems Black children face in schools are political problems. The chapter articulates three aspects of science education that should be reconceptualized if we are to adequately address these problems. These three aspects are: the purpose of science education; science content; and the role of the instructor. The theoretical foundation for reconceptualizing these three aspects of science education comes from Goduka’s (2005) articulation of eZiko, Mutegi’s (2011) articulation of socially transformative STEM curriculum, and Codrington’s (2014) work on liberatory education. Drawing from this theoretical foundation, the chapter illustrates the how science educators could reconceptualize the purpose of science education, science content, and the role of the instructor by describing a year-long project in which three, high school-aged, young ladies and one university professor worked collaboratively as science writers. Through the Black Kids Read - Science Writers project, these young ladies took on the task of authoring science-oriented literature for elementary-aged children. [The book can be accessed at].
... While STC began as a framework for science education, the core principles are drawn from curriculum theorists whose work is applied broadly (Mutegi 2011). Mutegi and colleagues have also applied the model to mathematics education (Pitts Bannister et al. 2017). ...
While some researchers and mathematics educators have argued for rehumanizing mathematics, traditional approaches to teaching mathematics are still dominating classrooms around the world. To promote transformation and empowerment among young, Black female students, the Girls STEM Institute (GSI), a co-curricular space, was started in 2013. This chapter describes rehumanizing experiences in math for Black girls who participated in GSI and how these experiences help foster positive identity development and build Black girls’ understanding of number and operations and their problem-solving and computational skills.
Since the inception of the mathematics education enterprise, whiteness and antiBlackness are two foundational components, ideological and social constructs. These constructs help to understand how the law, race, class, power, and other forms of oppression operate to establish, maintain, and elevate racism (white supremacy) in and out of the mathematics education enterprise. The article uses critical race theory in mathematics education to examine the enterprise from a historical to contemporary perspective to illustrate how whiteness and antiBlackness have been normalized and used to exclude Blackness. I argue for a liberatory response anchored in African frames to address the atrocities against Black people in and out of mathematics education.
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In this article, the authors draw on their experience in an international, cross-cultural visit to ponder similarities and differences in educational systems in both the USA and Kenya. During the visit, one feature of Kenyan society that stood out and became a frequent topic of discussion was the existence of the Jua Kali. Presenting their ponderings through the metaphor of windows and mirrors, the authors use the Jua Kali to (a) muse about the impact of school structure and science curriculum on Kenyan society and (b) reflect on the impact of school structure and science curriculum on US society. Through these muses and reflections, the authors suggest that science curriculum in the USA is structured to be irrelevant and inefficient, and it does not yield the results that it promises. The authors conclude by drawing from the history of the science, technology, and society movement to advocate for small-scale, local reform efforts.
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This article asserts that despite the salience of race in U.S. society, as a topic of scholarly inquiry, it remains untheorized. The article argues for a critical race theoretical perspective in education analogous to that of critical race theory in legal scholarship by developing three propositions: (1) race continues to be significant in the United States; (2) U.S. society is based on property rights rather than human rights; and (3) the intersection of race and property creates an analytical tool for understanding inequity. The article concludes with a look at the limitations of the current multicultural paradigm.
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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.
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What is teaching and learning mathematics for social justice (TLMSJ)? How has TLMSJ been taken up in mathematics education-- both historically and contemporarily? Along with unpacking these two central questions, another purpose of this article is to assess the current capacity and stance ofTLMSJ toward addressing issues of racial injustice. We begin with an overview ofTLMSJ as an epistemic perspective and introduce an analytical lens based on selected tenets of critical race theory. We then use this analytical lens to examine extant TLMSJ scholarship toward broadening the possibilities of justice-oriented scholarship in mathematics education.
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The term ethnomathematics is used to express the relationship between culture and mathematics. The term requires a dynamic interpretation because it describes concepts that are themselves neither rigid nor singular—namely, ethno and mathematics (D'Ambrosio 1987). The term ethno describes “all of the ingredients that make up the cultural identity of a group: language, codes, values, jargon, beliefs, food and dress, habits, and physical traits.” Mathematics expresses a “broad view of mathematics which includes ciphering, arithmetic, classifying, ordering, inferring, and modeling” (pp. 2–3).
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At least since 1977, African Americans have been underrepresented in science related careers. Although researchers have identified a number of factors which correlate with students' career decisions, they have failed to explain how these factors are related to race. Moreover, this body of research has failed to consider the role of mathematics and science teachers' perceptions of African-American students. This study identifies and describes perceptions held by 49 pre-service mathematics and science teachers about mathematics and science ability of African-American students. Data were collected by means of a three-part, open-ended questionnaire. Findings indicate that over one-third of pre-service teachers are unaware that African Americans achieve below their peers in mathematics and science; they overwhelmingly place culpability for African-American students' achievement with the students and their communities; and they are largely unable to identify culturally relevant teaching strategies to address African-American students' achievement.
Paulo Freire's critical education theory is “re-invented” in the context of a mathematics curriculum for urban working-class adults. The problems Freire poses for teachers in that context are explored, and work of other theorists which deepens or questions aspects of Freire's theory is discussed. Next, Freire's theory is applied to teaching basic mathematics and statistics for the social sciences. It is argued that such mathematical literacy is vital in the struggle for liberatory social change in our advanced technological society. Finally, this reflection on practice is used to pose further problems to be explored in the creation and re-creation of the “pedagogy of the oppressed.”
In this article, Donaldo Macedo presents a provocative critique of the current educational system and challenges educators to examine potentially dangerous educational practices that privilege specialization while ignoring the need to make linkages using critical literacy. Recent events such as the Gulf War and the first Rodney King verdict are presented as compelling evidence that, without the ability to read the word and the world critically, Americans are subject to political manipulation. Macedo links this current political climate to the state of many of our nation's schools, which operate under a pedagogy that perpetuates the inability to think critically.
Drawing from the 1990, 1996, and 2000 National Assessment of Educational Progress, this study examines Black-White disparities in 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-grade mathematics achievement and instruction. Substantial Black-White achievement gaps were identified, such as 12th-grade Black students scoring below 8th-grade White students. Furthermore, an analysis of race and SES together in the 1996 data revealed that student SES failed to account for much of the Black-White achievement gaps. Several instruction-related factors were also found to differ by race even after controlling for students' SES. This study provides evidence that, despite current reforms promoting high-quality mathematics education for all, Black students of both low and high SES are being left behind.