- Issues of injustice in society (e.g. racism, classism, sexism, ableism) are perpetuated in and through educational opportunities, including mathematics learning (Freire, 1970/2000). Those that are committed to disrupting the interlocking systems that create disparities and oppression in mathematics education are considered to be “pursuing justice.” Pursuit of justice can involve a variety of different conceptions of justice, where conceptions involve the recognition of the problems that need to be solved, ideas about what solutions look like, and how researchers, teacher educators, and teachers may make progress in achieving it. While there has been increased attention on justice in the mathematics education field since the turn of the century (Berry III et al., 2020; TODOS, 2020; Wager & Stinson, 2012), the products of this attention (e.g., research on classroom interactions, identification of justice-oriented practices, curriculum centering social issues) take up varied conceptions of justice. I posit that an understanding of the range of conceptions of justice that exist in mathematics education literature can help identify trends in how the field can continue to problematize and generate solutions for future work. This qualitative dissertation study, presented in two manuscripts, collectively examines conceptions of justice in K-12 mathematics education.
The first manuscript explores the conceptions of justice present in the research literature regarding justice in K-12 mathematics education. When manuscript authors frame problems around justice and interpret solutions, they draw upon and construct Discourses, which are cultural and social frames that constitute meaning. This manuscript answers the research question, what are the Discourses of Justice in the K-12 mathematics education literature? My systematic analysis of the research, teacher education, and practitioner literature that used justice as a key construct resulted in the identification of three Discourses of Justice (Empowerment, Transformation, and Democracy) and three themes regarding how they are invoked in the literature. The findings of this study offer insight into the ways Discourses of Justice function within manuscript arguments and across manuscript audiences to motivate and construct different conceptions of justice. Implications from this manuscript call for understanding how the Discourses of Justice in the literature are invoked by other members of the field to inform action toward justice.
The second manuscript answered the research question, how do educators construct their conceptions of justice? I utilized activity theory (Leont’ev, 1981; Engeström, 1987) and Mediated Discourse Analysis (Norris & Jones, 2005; Scollon & Scollon, 2004) to unpack how educators draw upon Discourses of Justice and other mediational means to construct their conceptions of justice in interviews. In a strategic series of semi-structured interviews of educators working in a social justice-oriented educational program, the analysis revealed that each of the four educators constructed multiple conceptions of justice at a time. Some of these conceptions drew upon Discourses of Justice that call for system-level transformation, but most attended to interactional shifts that impacted individuals in their conceptions of justice. As the educators constructed these conceptions across their interviews, they invoked mediational means that embodied their a) personal experiences and belief systems and b) institutional responsibilities and agency. My analysis suggests that these two sources represent key features of the activity system that support educators’ conceptions of justice. Personal experiences and institutional responsibilities afford and constrain educators’ conceptions of justice, as well as the mediational means they invoke. This manuscript motivates further exploration of the mediational means that educators draw upon in their conceptions of justice and how these may work as mechanisms to advance particular goals and actions to achieve a more just system of mathematics education.
The two manuscripts that comprise this study present a perspective on the conceptions of justice available within the field of mathematics education as represented in the literature that specifically identified justice and from four educators working within one justice-oriented educational setting and how those conceptions of justice provide implications for action. An implication of this study is for increased awareness regarding the (lack of) attention paid to system-level conceptions in justice work. In particular, this study advances the importance of leveraging a multi-layered and nuanced conception of justice that supports the connection of individual action to systemic impact. The findings in this study present evidence that these conceptions are challenging for manuscript authors and educators to take up. Yet, there is a need to uncover mechanisms through which stakeholders throughout the mathematics education community can build awareness and attention to systemic features of justice in their work. Justice is a systemic problem that requires systemic solutions. The second implication of this study is a motivation for collective action to achieve a more just mathematics education. As the findings from this study motivate a call for systemic action toward justice, a need for research and practice to encompass the work of collectives arises as well. Cultivating networks of support and expertise within and across stakeholders in mathematics education, and extending to community organizers and activists outside of mathematics education, is one step forward toward understanding and pursuing nuanced, complex, and systemic conceptions of justice in mathematics education.