Purdue University Graduate School

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Knowing the World Through Mathematics: Explorations of a Social Justice Mathematics Course

posted on 2022-07-18, 12:32 authored by Michael R LolkusMichael R Lolkus


Issues of social justice continue to permeate all aspects of life in the United States. Acknowledging recent calls for racial justice, as well as efforts to restrict what is taught in mathematics classrooms, researchers and practitioners are increasingly exploring the promises of teaching mathematics for social justice in secondary mathematics classrooms. This dissertation contributes to research about how a social justice mathematics course can be utilized in teacher education programs to support prospective mathematics teachers’ (PMTs’) development of their mathematics identities, as well as how PMTs translate social justice mathematics theory into

practice with their secondary mathematics students. This research complexifies the role of primarily white mathematics teachers and teacher educators working toward teaching

mathematics for social justice by foregrounding some of the ways in which social justice mathematics curricula and instruction may continue to center whiteness. 

This dissertation includes three studies focused on the design and delivery of a social justice mathematics course offered to undergraduate students, as well as the learning outcomes

for 11 PMTs enrolled in the first iteration. As such, each study is formatted for submission to a research journal and contains its own questions, methods, findings, discussion, and conclusion. 

The first and second studies detail the experiences of PMTs in a social justice mathematics course. In the first study, I explored how engaging in such a course contributed to PMTs’ mathematics identities. Findings in this case study suggest that sustained engagement with social justice mathematics can contribute to PMTs’ conceptions of mathematics and encourage them to address issues of social justice in their mathematics classrooms. Building on this, three of the PMTs enrolled in the course and I engaged in a critical participatory action research study to investigate their experiences working toward teaching mathematics for social justice in their secondary mathematics field placements. Prior to engaging their students with social justice mathematics tasks, the PMTs focused on developing relationships and trust with students and also maintained a commitment to engaging students with dominant mathematics. 

Informed by a finding in the first study (i.e., PMTs continued to view mathematics as objective and neutral), in the third study, I investigated the prominence of whiteness in the development and facilitation of the course. Using action research and critical whiteness studies, I detail areas in which I perpetuated whiteness, as well as areas in which I began to make progress.


This research was funded by a one-year Bilsland Dissertation Fellowship research grant from Purdue University.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • Curriculum and Instruction

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jill Newton

Additional Committee Member 2

Robert Q. Berry III

Additional Committee Member 3

Stephanie Masta

Additional Committee Member 4

JoAnn Phillion

Additional Committee Member 5

Craig J. Willey