of the 100th Anniversary of ICMI

WORKING GROUP #3

ICMI has played an important role in giving impetus and space for the emergence and growth of the study of social, cultural, political and economic issues in mathematics education. These have spawned diverse areas of scholarship – such as gender, class, ethno-mathematics, critical mathematics education, equity and social justice – which have found expression in the scientific activities and programmes of ICMI. The working group will explore a selection of these with respect to how they have found expression and the new directions they suggest for curriculum and policy. In this introduction, we suggest some possible starting points for the working group.

**SOME STARTING POINTS:**

There has been an increasing recognition over the last two decades that the context in which
learning occurs profoundly affects what is learnt and by whom. In much early mathematics education research,
knowledge was conceived as being simply a property of the individual consciousness. The realisation that
knowledge is produced in *situations* (Lave, 1988; Wenger, 1998; Lerman, 2000) requires us to move beyond analysis of
learning which is dependent on a psychological representation of the mind alone and to consider instead the setting – its social relationships, its cultural locality, the discursive frameworks available in the locale, the social and
political environment which frames it – and how that setting functions
generatively in the construction of knowledge. In other words, mathematics education research has taken ‘a social turn’
(Lerman, 2000:19). However, those
researchers who are mostly likely to be found together in a forum focused on *Mathematics education and society*
usually mean something more than this.

- To what extent does the 'social turn' involve more than viewing learning as situated?

Mathematics education itself is understood by such researchers as being a profoundly
political activity – political in the sense of being intimately bound up with
issues of power, authority and the legitimisation of knowledge: who is able to
decide what happens, who is recognised as having the authority to set the
agenda, whose interests are served by currently dominant conceptions of
learning, whose voice ‘counts’, whose knowledge is deemed legitimate and
authoritative and so on (Hardy and Cotton, 2000, Klein, 2002). Thus, education is a moral activity because
it is deeply value-laden. Similarly,
conducting mathematics educational research is also a political and moral
activity involving issues of values, power, authority and legitimacy. Researchers interested in *Mathematics education and society *are
likely to suggest that the aim of inquiry for social justice is ‘the *critique and transformation* of the
social, political, cultural, economic, ethnic, and gender structures that
constrain and exploit humankind’ (Guba and Lincoln, 1998: 211, original
emphasis).

- What is the role of mathematics education research with respect to critique and transformation?

Such a stance may have implications at a methodological level. Research methods and methodologies are not
neutral with respect to social justice, but the potential of any specific
research work to contribute to the development of a fairer world is not *determined* by either the methods or
methodologies adopted. For example,
taking an example from England,
the research reported in *Experiencing
School Mathematics* by Jo Boaler (1997) uses a fairly standard ethnographic
approach to conduct research *on*, not *with*, teachers (Setati 2000) and their
classroom practices. Vithal (2003) has
been a strong advocate for approaches that explicitly acknowledge the politics
of methodology and its impact on research. Others who have become frustrated
with the work in equity have argued that there is a strong need to bring
teachers into the research process and focus on issues of equity as they relate
to classroom practice (Rousseau & Tate, 2003).

- Are there specific methodological implications for critical mathematics education researchers?

This recurrent concern with transformation has generated a large body of mathematics education research focused on gender as a key area of structural disadvantage (Barnes, 2000; Becker, 1996; Burton, 1999; Fennema, 1996; Forgasz et al, 2000; Grevholm and Hanna, 1995; Leder et al, 1999; Mendick, 2006). Much of this will be well known to ICMI participants since this concern led to the creation of the ICMI Affiliated Study Group, the International Organisation of Women and Mathematics Education (IOWME), which has been active for more than two decades. During this time, the attainment profile for girls in mathematics has changed significantly in a number of countries but issues remain: young women opting out of mathematics, who identifies with mathematics and how, the ways that mathematics classrooms permit and perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes and many more.

- What are the current issues with respect to gender for mathematics education researchers?

Other research has focused on 'race' and ethnicity (Atweh et al, 2001, Ladson-Billings, 1997, Powell, 2002); or on class (Frankenstein, 1990; Povey and Boylan, 1988; Zevenbergen, 1999; Lubienski, 2002). Others have specifically identified the issues of indigenous people coming to learn mathematics (Zevenbergen, Mousley and Sullivan 2004). Tate (1997) also draws on all these areas to identify the difficulties of multiple areas of disadvantage on the learning of mathematics. And through much of this research, these sites of structural disadvantage have been conceptualised as fundamentally interconnected (Keitel, 1998). If the social is not used as one key frame through which to view mathematics classrooms, issues of social justice and equity disappear.

- What are the current issues with respect to 'race', ethnicity and class for mathematics education researchers?

- How are the sites of structural disadvantage conceptualised? How do they interact?

If young people are to learn to think mathematically, to manifest mathemacy (Alro and Skovsmose, 2002), to develop as persons and to acquire those democratic competencies needed to live as citizens – critical consciousness, sustained and sustainable action and co-operation (Moreira, 2002) – there are implications for mathematics classrooms. They will need to be places where learners set up productive relationships with the process of coming to know. For many learners in mathematics classrooms these disciplinary relationships are fraught with difficulty. Mathematics is experienced as being only a body of already established abstract knowledge, always known and belonging to experts, a discipline which is ‘without fuzziness or debateable results … no experiment, no interpretation of evidence, no comparison of criticisms’ (Rodd, 2002:2). Learning mathematics becomes only a process of acquiring received knowledge of already existing rules and procedure and doing mathematics becomes performance. Rather, tasks are needed which can be approached in a variety of ways, and for which a wide range of tools can be offered as appropriate; which provide useful opportunities for learners to see themselves as active, as choosing, deciding, producing arguments for and against, assessing validity and generating questions and ideas. Such practices profoundly affect the nature of the resulting knowledge. How we know, and how we come to know, are inseparable from what we know.

- What are the pedagogic implications of critical mathematics education?

In this introduction we have touched on many issues related to *Mathematics education and society*. Inevitably space has precluded doing justice to the themes mentioned – there are, of course, many more which have not even
surfaced. We hope the Working Group will provide an open, supportive and critical forum for taking debate forward.

**REFERENCES**

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Atweh, B., Forgasz, H. & Nebres, B. (Eds.) (2001) *Sociocultural Research on
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Barnes, M. (2000)
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Becker, J. R. (1996).
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Boaler, Jo (1997) *Experiencing School Mathematics: Teaching Styles, Sex and Setting*,
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Zevenbergen, Robyn (1999) Boys,
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**Co-chairs: Hilary Povey (UK), Robyn Zevenbergen (Australia)**

**PAPERS:**

- Bill Atweh Understanding and Practicing Social Justice in Mathematics Education
- Jo Boaler Relational Equity
- Tony Cotton Relationships to mathematics, relationships to learning mathematics
- Peter Gates & Vanessa Roper The subtle but pervasive influence of class in learning at school. The case of mathematics
- Merrilyn Goos Critique and transformation in researcher-teacher relationships in mathematics education
- Tansy Hardy Subjectivity as a tool to explore relationships to learning and teaching mathematics
- Gelsa Knijnik “Regimes of truth” on adult peasant mathematics education: An ethnomathematics study
- João Filipe Matos and Madalena Santos Recognizing and validating mathematical competences in adults: political and ethical dimensions
- Heather Mendick Embodying mathematics (with Marie-Pierre Moreau and Debbie Epstein)
- Candia Morgan Researching innovation in curriculum and pedagogy from a critical perspective
- Ole Skovsmose Critique, uncertainty, and possibility
- Paola Valero In between reality and utopia: A socio-political research agenda for mathematics education in situations of conflict and poverty
- Dave Wagner Positioning theory and intercultural conversations about mathematics
- Robyn Zevenbergen Tensions, contentions and connections in learning mathematics for students of significantly diverse backgrounds

**OVERVIEW PAPER:**

Mathematics education and society: an overview, by Hilary Povey and Robyn Zevenbergen