The Critical Mathematics Educators Group (CMEG): Attempting to Connect Anti-Capitalist Work with Mathematics Education

Marilyn Frankenstein
University of Massachusetts

In "Scenes from the Inferno", Alexander Cockburn (1989) wrote about the reality behind, the so-called triumph of capitalism. One of his illustrations is particularly relevant for a critical mathematics education: in Chile, where in some Santiago neighborhoods, "the diet of 77 to 80 percent of the people does not have sufficient calories and proteins… to sustain life", Pinochet’s regime measured malnutrition in relation to a person’s weight and height, in contrast to the usual comparison of weight and age. "So a stunted child is not counted as malnourished, and thus is not eligible for food supplements". (p. 510) This talk will explore the connections between understanding the outrageousness of collecting such statistics, and acting to change the outrageousness of such situations.

Broadly speaking, the Critical mathematics Educators Group hopes to connect critical mathematics educators’ work with economic, political and social movements towards a just, humane society. We share the concerns of humanistic mathematics educators to respect our students and to teach mathematics in such a way that understanding is emphasized over memorization and students actively participate in their own learning. We share the concerns of ethnomathematics educators to counter the Eurocentric models of the development of mathematical knowledge, to consider the interactions of culture and mathematical knowledge, and to start the learning process from our students’ mathematical knowledge. We add to those humanistic and ethnomathematical concerns an attention to how the power dynamics of society result in the situation where "the intellectual activity of those without power is always characterized as non-intellectual". (Freire & Macedo, 1987, p. 122) We view mathematics as one area of knowledge constructed by humans in order to understand and learn about our world. We believe that major objectives of all education are to shatter the myths about how society is structured; to understand the effects of, and interconnections among racism, sexes, ageism, heterosexism, monopoly capitalism, imperialism, and other alienating, totalitarian institutional structures and attitudes; to develop the commitment to rebuild those structures and attitudes; and, to develop the personal and collective empowerment needed to engage that task.

This talk will outline the organizational roots and the organizational connections of the Critical mathematics Educators Group; discuss the non-static definition we have proposed and the intellectual currents that underlie it; review the activities in which we are involved; and raise various political and research questions for exploration.

Those questions include: