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[xmca] Culturally responsive math ed.

There are several interesting articles in Teachers College Record this week.
Here is a book review of one of our own xmca o philes, although we hear from
them too rarely!!

Culturally Responsive Mathematics Education
reviewed by Kathleen
Nolan<http://www.tcrecord.org/AuthorDisplay.asp?aid=21249>� November
02, 2009

[image: cover]<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0805862641/teacherscolleger>
*Title:* Culturally Responsive Mathematics Education
*Author(s):* Brian Greer, Swapna Mukhopadhyay, Arthur B. Powell, and Sharon
Nelson-Barber (eds.)
*Publisher: * Routledge, New York
*ISBN: *0805862641, *Pages:* 400, *Year:* 2009
Search for book at

As I pondered the title of this admirable collection of essays, I could not
help but ask the pertinent question at hand: What, exactly, is meant by (a)
culturally responsive mathematics education? Decidedly, this is precisely
the question addressed by each of the chapter authors, albeit in ways that
are embedded in stories of identity, cultural artifacts, curriculum
development, social justice, computer design, semiotics, the environment,
and the historical, anthropological, and highly politicized perspectives on
mathematics as socially and culturally constructed. I quickly discerned that
such a diverse collection of perspectives focused on the topic of diversity
does not readily lend itself to a cursory review process— striving to
encapsulate the flavor of a rich text such as this in 1500 words or less is
akin, I suppose, to striving to encapsulate what it means to be culturally
responsive in mathematics education in 370 pages or less!

As I read the book, I reasoned that a fitting approach to review might be to
glean insight from the book and its authors into my initial ponderings:
What, exactly, is meant by (a) culturally responsive mathematics education?
 To do this, however, required that I first moved past the double irony I
encountered. Firstly, there can be no answer to a question that juxtaposes
the word “a” with the term “culturally responsive”, since such a
juxtapositioning would impose an essential nature on what it means to
respond to diversity. As suggested by d’Ambrosia, it is imperative to avoid
“the trap of the same” (p. 6), and the authors of this book attempt to do
just this. Secondly, I was challenged to get past the irony of the narrow
focus of the book, consisting of authors writing only from/within the
context of the United States and lacking explicit gender and class
discussions. A few chapters have the U.S. context so deeply embedded in the
story being told (for example, Gutstein and Miller-Jones and Greer) that it
can be challenging for the reader to think beyond U.S. soil and the taste of
U.S. politics. However, the editors do forewarn readers of this second irony
in the book’s introduction, partially excusing this lack of scope by
referring to the book as “a pointer to changes” (p. 6). I concur; this book
is a daring and commendable attempt to point to possibilities for change. I
can appreciate the editors’ intention to draw attention to the fact that a
culturally responsive mathematics education is still far from being realized
in classrooms and institutions across the globe.

Perhaps, at the end of it all, this double irony worked well as a subtext
for my responsibility, as a reviewer, to respond to the distinct ways in
which each of the book’s authors interprets and embraces cultural
responsiveness in the context of mathematics education. In this light then,
I will return to my question: What, exactly, is meant by (a) culturally
responsive mathematics education?

A key starting point for understanding culturally responsive education is
provided by Moses, West, and Davis, who emphasize the need to attend “to the
experiences and notions of students and teachers where they begin, which is
always cultural” (p. 255). Davis, Hauk, and Latiolais astutely point out
what should be obvious: that in order to be responsive to (diverse)
cultures, one must first understand what is meant by culture and how we
identify cultures in our classrooms. These authors describe culture as “a
collection of learned ways of seeing and interacting with the world and a
slowly evolving intergenerational template for the shaping of these learned
behaviors” (p. 354).

In this book, even reference to the term “culturally responsive” heeds
d’Ambrosia’s warning of avoiding the trap of the same as the chapters move
between the language of *culturally responsive*, *equitable*, *liberatory
education*, *cultural affirmation*, and other related expressions. For
example, Moschkovich and Nelson-Barber describe a cultural affirmation
approach wherein “practices and approaches to learning that are different
from those of the dominant culture (reflected in school practices) are
affirmed rather than denied” (p. 114). These two authors identify cultural
content, social organization, and cognitive resources as the “three areas
central to ensuring that curricula and instructional practice are culturally
relevant for students” (p. 114).

Martin and McGee frame their description in the language of liberatory
mathematics education, emphasizing “equitable learning and participation
experiences inside the classroom, which can help foster equity outside the
classroom” (p. 233). The language of equity is a further focus for Aguirre
who defines equity to mean “that all students in light of their
humanity—personal experiences, backgrounds, histories, languages, physical
and emotional well-being—must have the opportunity and support to learn rich
mathematics that fosters meaning making, empowers decision making, and
critiques, challenges, and transforms inequities/injustices” (p. 296).
Authors Civil and Quintos, in focusing their attention on parental
involvement in U.S. schools, argue “that a fundamental component for
establishing a culturally responsive education is a dialogue that breaks
down the hierarchical and hegemonic practices” (p. 321) that so often
characterize schools, and mathematics classrooms in particular.

In the context of mathematics teacher education, Geneva Gay demands a
critical analysis of the language, culture, and mystic of mathematics before
prospective teachers can begin to understand and embrace the beliefs and
tenets of culturally responsive teaching. It is Gay’s elaboration on these
tenets of culturally responsive teaching that provided a highlight for me in
reading the book. She discusses five such tenets that shape the ideology of
culturally responsive teaching: “… the importance of culture; the social
construction of knowledge; the inclusiveness of cultural responsiveness;
academic achievement involves more than intellect; and balancing and
blending unity and diversity” (p. 197). While her original groundbreaking
work with culturally responsive teaching was of a general (not specifically
mathematical) nature (Gay, 2000), her application of the tenets to
mathematics education highlights the multiple levels on which
‘responsiveness’ (should) reside(s). Gay’s chapter reflects the complexity
involved in deconstructing the “socially constructed identity of
mathematics” (p. 193).

It is along this line of deconstructing constructed identities that I
experienced a degree of personal and professional tension while reading this
book (which, I remind the reader, is not a bad thing!). As I read the
individual essays, I found myself continually shifting between the authors’
diverse, at times dichotomous, range of approaches to living out (a)
culturally responsive mathematics education. I began to ponder the following
question: Are we, as mathematics educators and researchers, advocating for a
pedagogy that asks students to recognize mathematics as its own cultural
system or a pedagogy that acknowledges, and interconnects with, the cultural
systems of the students we teach? Of course, the most politically correct
response to this question is to say ‘both’, but at times I seriously wonder
how we can accomplish a blend of both. One could say I experienced
ponderings of the chicken/egg question. What comes first: the chicken
(focusing on the culture of students) or the egg (focusing on the culture of
mathematics), and whether focusing on both simultaneously (which is what I
believe is an overall message in this book) is akin to aiming at a moving
target? In other words, if we focus our energies on a pedagogy that is
responsive to, and interconnects with, students’ cultures will we miss the
opportunities for a pedagogy that highlights mathematics itself as a social
construction which is reflective of particular cultural values and
identities? That is, a pedagogy that focuses foremost on revealing and
deconstructing the cultural properties and myths of western views of
mathematics. In owning a responsibility toward the cultures that students
bring to our classrooms, do we risk providing a culturally restrictive
education? What if our attempts to respond in multiple ways to multiple
cultures actually preclude students from traveling within, and learning
from, cultures not their own—politically and socially charged cultures like
mathematics that are, in and of themselves, worthy of a response?

It is worth qualifying that my foray into these critical questions is meant
to demonstrate how I, like the authors in this book, grapple with the
tensions inherent in *not* seeking a set of best practices, or resolutions,
in the simple, straightforward, and sameness that has frequently been the
trademark of mathematics education initiatives touted under, for example, a
‘math for all’ umbrella. A case is definitely made in this book for
challenging traditional images of mathematics with more humanistic images
(Ernest), by incorporating the theoretical framework of ethnomathematics
(Mukhopadhyay, Powell, and Frankenstein; Barta and Brenner), and by using
mathematics education as a weapon in the struggle for social justice
(Gutstein). In most chapters of this book, mathematics itself
*is*undoubtedly acknowledged as a culture but in only a few chapters
example, Ernest and Gay) do I sense a focus placed on ‘studying’ (exposing,
deconstructing, teaching) about/through that mathematical culture as a way
to actually *be* culturally responsive in mathematics education.

In closing, I would like to draw attention to how, in my view, many
mathematics education research endeavors continue to talk the good talk of
culturally responsive pedagogy in mathematics education, but walking the
walk in practice remains much more elusive. That is, research continues to
profess mathematics as its own cultural system without having this cultural
notion infuse its teaching and learning. I applaud the sincere efforts of
the authors in this book to ground the ‘good talk’ (the theoretical
discussions) in specific classroom and curricular experiences that do,
indeed, serve as pointers to possibilities for real change.


Gay, G. (2000). *Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and
New York: Teachers College Press.
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