Metaphor for Positionality and Learning in Mathematics Classrooms in the US

Posted on March 7, 2012 by


My research project nowadays is a bit of a personal redemption project, somewhat reconciling two worlds that I’d been a part of — the successful math student and the marginalized math student. A “mixed” hybrid identity, if you will.

I’d been wondering how a student gets marginalized in mathematics.

In real life, there are tons of people who say that they hate math and want to avoid it.

My guess is that it had to be a bad math experience at some point in schooling.  This probably had to do with excessive or non-existent studying, and ultimately failed tests, low grades.  But failed tests and low grades couldn’t happen without failed communication.  A failed communication is a disconnection, the absence of an infrastructure either forged by student him/herself, the teacher, or the environment.

I have one metaphor to explain the rough structure of classroom dynamics:  Mathematics and teachers’ knowledge are elusive islands of knowledge that may inadvertently keep people out.

  • Teacher in an island ivory castle indefinitely holding on to a center of knowledge
  • Students within a certain time period trying to get past a moat to that center of knowledge
  • Lot of students see that moat as too insurmountable to get to within the alloted time period;  after a while they give up

Essentially my idea is that students in math, particularly developmental students at the community college have to make a huge leap to the center of knowledge in such a short time.  The passing of time, the happening of more unsuccessful events essentially drains on the student and eventually they lose the emotional endurance to keep up.