Epistemic injustice in mathematics education

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ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Epistemic injustice in mathematics education Fenner Stanley Tanswell1   · Colin Jakob Rittberg1 Accepted: 4 June 2020 © The Author(s) 2020

Abstract Equity and ethics in the learning of mathematics is a major topic for mathematics education research. The study of ethics and injustice in relation to epistemic pursuits, such as mathematics, is receiving a great deal of interest within contemporary philosophy. We propose a bridging project between these two disciplines, importing key ideas of “epistemic injustice” and “ethical orders” from philosophy into mathematics education to address questions of ethics, equity, values and norms. We build on Dawkins and Weber’s (Educ Stud Math 95:123–142, 2017) “apprenticeship model” of learning proofs and proving, which says that mathematics education should reflect the practices of research mathematicians. Focusing on the norms and values implicit in mathematical proving, we argue that deploying this model unreflectively can lead to “epistemic injustices” in which learners are disadvantaged based on their cultural or class background. We propose thinking about the problem in terms of Max Weber’s “ethical orders”, and the clash that arises between the ethical orders of mathematics and the existing ethical orders of the learners and teachers of mathematics. Weber’s lesson is that sometimes these clashes have no overarching resolution, and so the mathematics classroom may also have to settle for tailored pragmatic measures to combat individual cases of epistemic injustice.

1 Introduction Mathematical practices are governed by norms and values. Dawkins and Weber (2017) focus on mathematical proving practices and individuate a list of principles which, as they convincingly argue, reflects some of the values of mathematical proving practices and the norms in place to uphold these values. According to their apprenticeship model of mathematics education, classroom mathematics should reflect professional mathematical practices, i.e. learners should be enculturated into these research-level norms and values of proving. This leaves the (cultural, social, economic, gender, racial, etc.) background of the learners unaccounted for. This is a research gap with, as we argue, ethical implications. We show that there are ethical reasons to negotiate and adjust the norms and values of mathematics during teaching to fit with the values upheld by the learners in the classroom. The aim of this paper is to provide a philosophical framework

* Fenner Stanley Tanswell [email protected] Colin Jakob Rittberg [email protected] 1



Loughborough University, Loughborough, UK

which helps to understand the ethics of this research gap and provides a first step towards traversing it. Methodologically, we are approaching mathematics education as philosophers of mathematics, with primary interests in mathematical practices, proofs, and the ethics and epistemology of mathematics. The aim of this paper is to provide a philosophical framework for questions about the ethics of teaching

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