RYSK: Gutiérrez's The Sociopolitical Turn in Mathematics Education (2013)

This is the 18th in a series describing "Research You Should Know" (RYSK).
"Regardless of the focus of a research project, the fact that mathematics is a human practice means it is inherently political, rife with issues of domination and power, just like any other human practice." (Gutiérrez, p. 40)
This quote from Rochelle Gutiérrez is not significant because it represents a cutting-edge perspective in mathematics education research. Instead, the quote is significant because the "sociopolitical turn" has taken the field of mathematics education research to a place where the above -- directly addressed or not -- is accepted by most math ed researchers. Insisting that mathematics education is somehow politically and culturally neutral is now the marginalized view. We didn't reach this perspective overnight, and we will struggle with how this sociopolitical perspective affects mathematics education. But in return for that struggle, we give ourselves a perspective from which to better understand why some students and some reforms succeed while others do not.

I'd seen a pre-print version of this article posted on the NCTM website leading up to the publication of this year's Special Equity Issue. NCTM has posted the article as a "free preview," which is where Bryan Meyer (@doingmath) found it and asked if anybody would want to discuss it with him. A few weeks later, Bryan and I met via Google+ Hangout and talked about the article.

It's been a few weeks since Bryan and I talked, but my main recollections are (a) my explanation of the socio+political was a bit long, but okay, (b) Bryan's pretty dialed in to this, as evidenced by the quality of the questions he asked, and (c) my speculation of what all this means for day-to-day classrooms gets pretty shaky. On that last part, I stand by my statement that I don't think this means there's something wrong with the sociopolitical perspective. Instead, I think it means I'm still slowly coming to understand it and consider all of its implications. Bryan and I are interested in having more of these talks with more people, and recently on Twitter we threw out a few links for possible articles to read. I'd like to have these Hangouts with more people, so we'll be sure to plan ahead and even seek out a regular time (once a month?) to discuss some recent piece of mathematics education research or commentary.

Feel free to comment to this post, the Google+ event, or the YouTube video. (Here would be nice.)


Gutiérrez, R. (2013). The sociopolitical turn in mathematics education. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 44(1), 37–68. Retrieved from http://www.nctm.org/uploadedFiles/Journals_and_Books/JRME/articles/JRME_Special_Equity_Issue/jrme2010-08-5a.pdf

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for posting this! It was great to go back and watch our discussion.

    I love your statement about "politics are in schools whether you want them to be or not." I think this is one of the major concerns expressed in the article. The social discourses in (math) education are created by and also create a sense of power. Perhaps we cannot escape these and thus we live in tension. However, being aware of those power relations helps remind us of the importance of letting the classroom be a place where students express their voice, their ways of thinking, and their ways of knowing. As you mentioned, mathematics as a "discipline" (the stuff we are "supposed" to teach) is a gatekeeper in many ways. This, I think, is why Dr. Gutierrez expresses the need for classrooms to serve as both a "window and a mirror." Students must see their own thinking in the work they do but they must also see the thinking of others. Not sure...watching it again just gives me more to think about.

    While the article may lack concrete examples for practice, I also think providing them would serve as the same sort of prescribed approach to teaching that Dr. Gutierrez is advocating against. To be present in the classroom is to attempt to bring this vision to fruition with them. So, I suppose we are always striving for a philosophical ideal...maybe one that is not fully attainable. But I don't think that means we stop trying. Thanks again...I really enjoyed this.