Social Justice and Gender Equity

Social Justice

One of personal passions is creating equality in education for all who feel underrepresented in mainstream classrooms or in classrooms where traditional teaching methods do not meet their learning needs. Through researching learning for girls, I have been lucky enough to read a great deal about the learning needs of other minority or underrepresented groups. Critical Theory has had a great influence on my views in education, as had Feminist Standpoint Theory, the writings of Frieire and other anti-oppressionists.

The writings of Gloria Ladson-Billings, Bob Moses and Eric Gutstein are influential in my views of teaching mathematics to students of diverse racial, ethnic and social-econimic status. Most importantly though is Jo Boaler’s idea of Relational Equity, which plays a major role in my theoretical framework. The idea that if you show students how to work together within a context of mutual respect for each other, for themselves, for the material and for success and that this will all encourage them to work together for their own empowerment shows that academic achievement is not only for the fastest or most able.

This past summer I was lucky enough to visit Christel House, a school in South Africa, right outside of Cape Town, that serves underprivileged children. Spending two weeks in South Africa was an amazing educational experience for me, as I learned a great deal about such a different way of life, the history of apartheid, the national curriculum and education in South Africa and how social justice plays itself out there. The people at Christel House truly changed my vision of education as they put so much of themselves into learning every day and I know what the potential of learners and educators on a daily basis. It was a wonderful experience and has effected my goals for research and learning in many ways. You can read my blog from that amazing trip here.

My visit to South Africa encouraged me to do some research on topics of mathematics education during the time of apartheid and the reconstruction of South Africa afterwards. I made contact with a professor of mathematics education at the Unviersity of Durban in South Africa named Renuka Vithal, who has written extensively on teacher education and the concept of a pedagogy of conflict and dialogue in mathematics education from a critical perspective. She writes about promoting empowerment for black girls (and boys) in South Africa through discourse and ownership in the mathematics classroom. This is very much along the lines of my beliefs as well.

Gender Equity
In reading about social justice issues in mathematics education, Ladson-Billings essay entitled But That’s Just Good Teaching: The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy makes the point that the relationally-based method she promotes could be understood to just be “good teaching” for all, and wouldn’t it just make sense to teach so that all students benefitted most? In fact, Jo Boaler’s research on what works best for girls’ learning in mathematics also found that the instructional methods and learning styles that girls found most helped them learn also worked well for boys. It seems to make sense that creating a classroom community that helps the majority of students instead of leaves out almost half of the population would be what is most beneficial to the population of learners.

I also feel strongly that since girls tend to be more relational learners, a pedagogy of relation needs to be melded with feminism in order to teach in context for females. Problem-Based Learning also seems likes an ideal instructional method because of how it focuses on communication and gives students voice and empowerment, which is something that gives girls a means for expressing their relational needs in learning.

In the spring of 2013, I published my dissertation which was a qualitative study of adolescent girls’ attitudes towards learning mathematics in a problem-based environment and how their attitudes changed or not.  It was an amazing study which focused on the five senses/attitudes of empowerment, agency, self-confidence, enjoyment and value of mathematics and the mathematics classroom for female adolescents.   You can find my dissertation on ProQuest presently and it is searchable.  The research finding helped to justify the use of PBL to enhance girls’ experience of the mathematics classroom as a more positive one than the a direct instruction classroom in many ways.

I often speak on the ways that PBL uses relational pedagogy and meets the needs of girls’ learning.  Here is a PBL and Girls Presentation that I did recently at school that might be helpful to some people.


Another interesting finding relating to women and girls that came out in the fall of 2010 is the concept of collective intelligence and the “social sensitivity” of a group of problem solvers.  In the article published in Science Daily, Collective Intelligence: Number of Women in Group Linked to Effectiveness in Solving Difficult Problems, the researchers found that the teams “containing more women demonstrated greater social sensitivity and in turn greater collective intelligence compared to teams containing fewer women.”  It is an interesting piece of information related to the STEM fields that it will be helpful to have more women in these groups as we move forward and solve problems that arise for our world’s future.