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Taking the Sociopolitical Turn in Postsecondary Mathematics Education Research

Abstract

In this paper, we argue for a need to attend to issues of equity in postsecondary mathematics education. In the United States, the broader mathematics education field has begun a shift toward attending to sociopolitical aspects of research, which focus on the interrelatedness of knowledge, identity, power, and social discourses. We argue that explicit uptake of sociopolitical perspectives has the potential to offer new insights to current research and to advance efforts to address inequities in meaningful and theoretically well-informed ways. Situating our argument within the social and political context of the United States, we draw on existing studies that examine inequities in undergraduate mathematics classrooms. We highlight studies that focus on the impact of social discourses and institutional contexts on the negotiations of power and identity in postsecondary mathematics. We end by proposing future research directions and discuss challenges for equity work in postsecondary mathematics education.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. 1.

    Berry (2015) uses the term “Black” to acknowledge the Black Diaspora, and to highlight the common way that Black learners, regardless of their origin are racialized in the U.S.

  2. 2.

    Similar tension has been discussed about the inclusion of racial minorities in the classroom for the benefit of White students (Isler 2015).

  3. 3.

    The importance of context makes it challenging to discuss cross-national equity issues in one article.

  4. 4.

    “Latinx” is a gender-neutral term to describe to describe people with Hispanic and/or Latin American origins. The term deemphasizes implicit gender binaries in “Latina/Latino,” and hence is more inclusive of transgender and other non-binary gender identities. Ramirez and Blay (2016) discuss the origin and different perspectives on the use of “Latinx” in scholarship, activism and journalism.

  5. 5.

    Walker (2014) has documented the formative and educational experiences that contribute to the success of a small number of Black mathematicians, in addition to highlighting the many and multiple obstacles that may contribute to the under-representation of Black faculty members.

  6. 6.

    We use the term “context-free” instead of “colorblind” or “genderblind” to describe the lack of attention to people’s backgrounds. The term “colorblindness” has been useful in describing beliefs about freedom from racial bias and has led to powerful critiques about such beliefs in a racialized society (Bonilla-Silva 2003). However, the terms discriminate against people with visual disabilities by erasing or delegitimizing their existence and experiences (Colorblind 2011).

  7. 7.

    Gutiérrez and Rogoff (2003) have discussed the danger of essentializing in studies about learning. This problem often arises from an unwarranted (and potentially dangerous) assumption that learning characteristics are linked with genetic traits. The authors propose cultural ways of learning as a more productive way of making sense of observed patterns in learning as “proclivities of people with certain histories of engagement with specific cultural activities” (p. 19).

  8. 8.

    Gutiérrez (2008) noted that a Google Scholar search with the term “achievement gap” and “math” resulted in approximately 8000 hits.

  9. 9.

    As of the writing of this paper, Fullilove and Treisman’s (1990) work has been cited 335 times. Laursen and colleagues' (2014) work is one of the first large scale quantitative studies that explores the effects of IBL on student outcomes. In recent years, there has been an increased in interest in IBL approaches as evidenced by many well-attended national conferences about this pedagogical approach.

  10. 10.

    Such findings have been replicated by other studies in different institutions. Hsu et al. (2008) provide more details on the core principles of the program, implementation, and the impact on students’ achievements 30 years since the program’s inception.

  11. 11.

    In a synthesis of research on women of color in STEM, Ong et al. (2011) found similar narratives continued to persist about women’s underrepresentation in STEM. This is despite numerous studies having refuted the false narrative that women of color lack interest in the field as the reason for the group’s underrepresentation in STEM.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the editor, Chris Rasmussen, and anonymous reviewers for their comments and feedback. We also thank Nathan Alexander, Luis Leyva, and Allison Dorko for their helpful input, comments, and feedback on this paper.

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Adiredja, A.P., Andrews-Larson, C. Taking the Sociopolitical Turn in Postsecondary Mathematics Education Research. Int. J. Res. Undergrad. Math. Ed. 3, 444–465 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40753-017-0054-5

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Keywords

  • Equity
  • Postsecondary mathematics
  • Sociopolitical perspective
  • Identity
  • Power