Social Justice + Math = Education

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Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.                    –John Dewey

People are aware that they cannot continue in the same old way but are immobilized because they cannot imagine an alternative.      -Grace Lee Boggs

Over the course of the year, our Social Justice Math study group has been hard at work, trying to figure out what it means to be a math educator with a social justice lens.

There are many approaches to this question, from looking at math literacy as a civil rights issue, to understanding how culturally relevant pedagogy impacts student achievement, to integrating economic and social justice issues into our classrooms, among others.

Regardless of where we land on the question of what social justice math is, it has become more clear with each conversation that math education through the experiential lens of working-class communities of color is an essential principle of education if our goal is to grow a self-determined, powerful human force to continue to evolve the way we live as humans in today’s society.

Grace Lee Boggs was an “evolutionary” who worked for a lifetime in Detroit to address the systemic injustices that the city’s residents have experienced through the years. She posited that “the community itself with its needs and problems must become the curriculum of the schools,” where learning is not just about skills and information, but the ideas, principles, and struggles needed to transform their community.

Want to know what this might look like? Check out Max Ray’s talk on how math teachers are the key to ending racism. Or see how Rico Gutstein and a group of 9th graders analyzed a Chicago redistricting proposal that could have resulted in upheaval and increased racial tensions for the students and families living in the neighborhood. Or listen to Saraswati Noel share about Seattle World School’s campaign to lock down a permanent school site after bouncing from location to location for years.

How would it look in your classroom? How different would your school be if the community was an active asset and participant rather than an occasional resource? How are you educating for social justice in your math class?

For more information on the Social Justice Math study group, see our site at or contact Celine Liu, Math Specialist at cliu (at)




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