# Understanding and Overcoming “Disadvantage” in Learning Mathematics

## Abstract

Past research has largely characterized disadvantage as an individual or social condition that somehow impedes mathematics learning, which has resulted in the further marginalization of individuals whose physical, racial, ethnic, linguistic and social identities are different from normative identities constructed by dominant social groups. Recent studies have begun to avoid equating difference with deficiency and instead seek to understand mathematics learning from the perspective of those whose identities contrast the construction of normal by dominant social groups. In this way of thinking, “understanding” disadvantage can be discussed as understanding social processes that disadvantage individuals. And, “overcoming” disadvantage can be explored by analyzing how learning scenarios and teaching practices can be more finely tuned to the needs of particular groups of learners, empowering them to demonstrate abilities beyond what is generally expected by dominant discourses. In this chapter, we consider theoretical and methodological perspectives associated with the search for a more inclusive mathematics education, and how they generally share a conceptualization of the role of the teacher as an active participant in researching and interpreting their students’ learning. Drawing from examples with a diverse range of learners including linguistic, racial and ethnic minorities, as well as deaf students, blind students, and those with specific difficulties with mathematics, we argue that by understanding the learning processes of such students we may better understand mathematics learning in general.

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