Interrogating Innate Intelligence Racial Narratives: Students’ Construction of Counter-Stories within the History of Mathematics

Abstract

This paper utilizes poststructural theory to analyze student artifacts that were collected from a history of mathematics course. The course was designed to counter three types of mathematical narratives, relating to: 1) race, 2) intelligence, and 3) innateness. To address these narratives, the course highlighted the contributions of communities of color and other minoritized populations in the historical development of mathematics. It also explicitly challenged dominant constructions of mathematical history and problematized their use to further the power and privilege of particular groups. Analyses of student artifacts showed that this course provided space for students to defy innate intelligence racial narratives and strengthen their own counter-stories.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term microaggressions is widely used but also sometimes contested, as the prefix micro implies that they are small. Others use terms such as micro-level aggressions, or Racial Battle Fatigue, to better capture this complex racialized experience (e.g., Smith et al., 2007).

  2. 2.

    Pascal’s triangle is called Tartaglia’s triangle in Italy. Differences in attributions of mathematical ideas also exist between Western mathematicians, but the central argument here is that many ideas from non-Western mathematicians are attributed to Western mathematicians, which creates a skewed perception of mathematics.

  3. 3.

    CK Raju has accused the author of plagiarizing his work on the history of mathematics. This led to an erratum/acknowledgement: https://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/indians-predated-newton-discovery-by-250-years/.

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Acknowledgements

The author thanks Cathery Yeh and Kari Kokka for their feedback on earlier drafts of the paper.

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This material was partially supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1943146.

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Reinholz, D.L. Interrogating Innate Intelligence Racial Narratives: Students’ Construction of Counter-Stories within the History of Mathematics. Int. J. Res. Undergrad. Math. Ed. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40753-021-00145-w

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Keywords

  • Discourse
  • History of mathematics
  • Narratives
  • Race
  • Racism