Professor: Let's Change Math Classes So They Honor 'Other-Than-Human Persons'


An Illinois professor who focuses on “equity” in mathematics will present her plan to redefine the field of study to oppose “objects, truths, and knowledge” at a 2019 conference.

University of Illinois education professor Rochelle Gutierrez will give her talk, titled “Mathematx: Towards a Way of Being,” at the Mathematics Education and Society 10th International Conference in India in January and February 2019.

“The relationship between humans, mathematics, and the planet has been one steeped too long in domination and destruction,” Gutierrez says in her presentation’s description. “I argue for a movement against objects, truths, and knowledge towards a way of being in the world that is guided by first principles — mathematx.”

“This shift from thinking of mathematics as a noun to mathematx as a verb holds potential for honouring our connections with each other as human and other-than-human persons, for balancing problem solving with joy, and for maintaining critical bifocality at the local and global level.”

Gutierrez focuses on the effects that class, race and language have on learning. Her University of Illinois faculty profile claims that teachers must possess not only “content knowledge,” but also “political knowledge,” according to her research.

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Do her views make sense to you?

The professor received grants from the National Science Foundation and the Bureau of Educational Research to incorporate diversity into math education. She has encouraged the use of what she calls “creative insubordination” by teachers in the classroom.

“With funding from the National Science Foundation, I have worked with teachers over the past 6 years to develop their political knowledge,” she wrote in the summer 2016 issue of “Teaching for Excellence and Equity in Mathematics.”

The first page of Gutierrez’s article contains extensive footnotes documenting why she says “Black students” instead of “black students,” “Latin@” instead of “Latinx” and “historically looted” instead of “low income.”

The professor outlines tactics teachers can use to employ social justice in the classroom, such as “press for explanation,” in which teachers can respond to questions like “why do we have Black History Month, anyhow?” by asking follow-up inquiries as a way of “buying time.”

She also encourages teachers to make students learn how others would arrive at incorrect test answers because it “encourages empathy for having assumed different mathematical assumptions” and advises that teachers “turn a rational issue into a moral one.”

She uses the example “regardless of what the data suggest or what has been done in the past, is this what we want to stand for?”

Gutierrez did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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