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Math Education through the Lens of Social Justice: Acknowledgement, Actions, and Accountability

Eliminating deficit views of mathematics learning

Deficit views of historically marginalized children, their families, and communities because of race, class, language, and culture persist in educational conversations and research (Valencia, 2010). In mathematics education this deficit thinking happens in at least two ways. First, is the continuous labeling of children’s readiness to learn mathematics via standardized tests and other institutional tools that position and sanction specific forms of mathematics knowledge. As early as pre-school and kindergarten, research and policy documents use deficit-oriented labels such as “maladaptive” and “immature” strategies to describe black, Latina/o, and poor children’s mathematical learning and position them as already behind their white and middle class peers (Clements & Sarama, 2007; National Research Council, 2000). In practice, the ubiquitous and dehumanizing labels such as “slow kids,” “low kids,” “high kids,” and “bubble kids” persist. The hyper focus on performance and perceived readiness leads to these learning labels fueling teacher and institutional expectations that affect what type of school sanctioned mathematics instruction children receive (Flores, 2007; Gutiérrez, 2008; Gutiérrez & Dixon-Román, 2011). The labels bestow privilege and marginalization leading to a differentiated and unjust mathematics education. A social justice priority in mathematics education is to openly challenge deficit thinking and the institutional tools and practices that perpetuate static views about children and their mathematics competencies. Eliminating the deficit discourse by focusing on learning rather than labels is a key step toward a more just and equitable mathematics education.



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