Math and Social Injustice

Breaking Down Barriers to Math Equity

Pushing For JusticeMathematics, often revered as a universal language of logic and precision, is not immune to the pervasive grip of social injustice. In fact, within the seemingly objective realm of numbers and equations, inequalities and barriers persist, reflecting broader societal injustices that hinder individuals’ access to education, opportunities, and resources. In this blog post, we’ll explore how mathematics intersects with social injustice and the urgent need for equitable change.

Educational Disparities – It’s no secret that access to quality math education is not distributed equally. Across different communities, schools in low-income areas face resource shortages, lack experienced teachers, and offer limited advanced math courses. These disparities perpetuate cycles of inequality, where students from marginalized backgrounds are systematically denied the tools and opportunities needed to excel in mathematics.

Curriculum Bias – Traditional math curricula often inadvertently perpetuate biases and reinforce societal inequalities. Textbooks and classroom instruction predominantly feature examples and perspectives that align with dominant cultural norms, sidelining the contributions of marginalized communities and reinforcing harmful stereotypes. This bias alienates students from underrepresented groups, hindering their engagement and success in math.

Standardized Testing – Standardized tests wield significant influence in determining college admissions and educational opportunities. However, these tests are not immune to bias and often disadvantage certain demographic groups, including racial minorities, low-income students, and English language learners. Disparities in test scores deepen existing inequalities, limiting access to higher education and perpetuating systemic injustice.

Math Anxiety and Stereotype Threat – Social factors, such as stereotypes and stigma, play a profound role in shaping individuals’ experiences with math. Math anxiety, fueled by the fear of confirming negative stereotypes about one’s social group, can undermine confidence and impede academic performance. Women and minorities, in particular, may grapple with stereotype threat, leading to lower math achievement and reinforcing societal inequities.

Representation and Role Models – The underrepresentation of women and minorities in STEM fields, including mathematics, mirrors broader societal injustices and barriers to participation. Limited representation of diverse role models in math education perpetuates feelings of exclusion and marginalization among underrepresented groups, discouraging them from pursuing careers in math-related fields.

Mathematical Literacy and Empowerment – Mathematical literacy is not merely a technical skill; it is a tool for navigating everyday life, making informed decisions, and participating in civic engagement. However, individuals from marginalized communities often lack access to mathematical resources and opportunities for developing critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Addressing these inequities is crucial for empowering individuals to advocate for social change and address systemic injustices.

When you walk into a typical math class on a typical day in almost any school, you’ll notice that most of the students are bored and distracted. That, believes Jonathan Osler, founder of RadicalMath, is a social justice issue.

“Math classes should give students the tools to better understand their reality. Who cares if ‘Train A goes x+4 times faster than train B‘ when your community isn’t adequately served by public transportation?”

Traditional math curricula don’t teach students how to compare the density of check-cashers to banks in low-income communities, evaluate college loan plans to determine which offer the most favorable rates, or analyze data on rates of diabetes and asthma in communities of color. Lesson plans for addressing all of these issues can be found at, a free website for educators interested in integrating issues of economic and social justice into their math classes.

“I believe in engaging and empowing students to learn about issues that are relevant to their lives and communities,” says RadicalMath founder, Jonathan Osler, who taught in a public high school in Brooklyn, New York for six years and now coaches math teachers in a public high school in Los Angeles. “But there were no sources of information for how I could integrate social justice issues into my math classes, so I began writing my own curricula and posting it online.” Two years later, RadicalMath contains over 800 lesson plans, data sets, and articles, has received over 1,000,000 page views, and has drawn visitors from all over the world.

Osler explains that it is critical for students to graduate from high school with strong math skills, prepared for math-based college majors and careers. But equally strong is his belief that in order to address our country’s most pressing problems, young people need to become agents for change in their lives and communities, and math is a tool that can help them do so. contains information on dozens of issues including racial profiling, immigration, global warming, and the criminal justice system. There are also numerous financial education resources and lesson plans on economic topics such as minimum vs. living wage, predatory lending, the mathematics of the lottery, and home ownership.

Last April, Osler, along with several other RadicalMath contributors, organized a national conference to discuss teaching math through a social justice lens. This first annual “Creating Balance in an Unjust World” conference drew over 500 educators, activists, parents and students from around the country to Brooklyn, NY. Osler and the other organizers expect to draw twice as many participants to this year’s conference.

This article was provided to us by Jonathan Osler. Osler is the founder of RadicalMath, a resource for educators interested in integrating issues of social and economic justice in their math classes and curriculum.