Why Learning Math Is Political

Jose Vilson Jose

Paul Ryan Cartoon

For my own professional development, I picked up the book Radical Equations: Math Literacy and Civil Rights by Robert Moses. The book equates the struggles Moses had with developing voter representations amongst the most underrepresented in the South with developing math knowledge / pedagogy into the curriculum in America’s classrooms. Observe:

So algebra, once solely in place as the gatekeeper for higher math and the priesthood who gained access to it, now is the gatekeeper for citizenship; and people who don’t have it are like the people who couldn’t read and write int he industrial age. But because of how access to – the learning of – algebra was organized in the industrial era, its place in society under the old jurisdiction, it has become not a barrier to college entrance, but a barrier to citizenship.

When people tell me that they weren’t born to do math, a small part of me wonders about the ramifications of any student who consistently tells themselves that they don’t have either the capacity or the potential to do any of the maths we learn in schools. Because of the changing economy, the entire way our communities view math needs to change.

Equally as important, we have to tell our communities that we can and will learn math.

See, the most dangerous thing about education is that it has the potential to dispense knowledge to others. When people actually learn about their histories, their legacies, and their worth on the planet, they become critical thinkers and agents for change.

It’s a small part of the reason why those of us who think critically seriously wonder if the confusion, bureaucracy and diminishing budgets in education serve to assure inequity rather than relieve it.

This is also why math is the answer. Governments, media, and corporations cloak their most important operations in advanced mathematics. We can no longer settle for our communities only getting the four operations. Unlike literacy, people generally consider math a subject that no one needs to master unless they’re a specialist of some nature. Yet, without a solid foundation of math, our most impoverished students have less options for their futures economically and politically.

We will do better.

Jose, who thanks each and every one of you for voting this as the best Latin@ Education Blog in all the land …