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Socialist Mathematics Education

Earlier this week I was in the Brotherton Library at the University of Leeds doing some reading for my dissertation. I saw this book and couldn’t help but pick it up:

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Socialist Mathematics Education edited by Frank J Swetz.

This wasn’t particularly relevant to my dissertation focus, but being a socialist and mathematics educator I was intrigued..what makes mathematics education socialist?

I embarked on a a mission to find out, but it turns out it wasn’t actually the mathematics education itself that was socialist. It was a study into the mathematics education that was happening within “socialist” states. I use the inverted commas as it seems the authors have a blurred definition of Socialism that seems to encompass Socialism, Communism and those regimes that are set up I  their name that don’t hold true to the ideology at all.

The book was released in 1978 and the countries it looks at are: USSR, East Germany, China, Yugoslavia, Sweden, Hungary and Tanzania.

There are detailed chapters on each state and the mathematics education within it, and the final chapter looks at themes and differences. It’s a very interesting read, if you are into that sort of thing.

One commonality that occured within these states was the heavy government debate on Maths Education, to a level where they were discussing the benefits of different approaches to each topic. One example cited was a debate on whether the vector approach to geometry was the best method. The authors pick out the positive of this as increased buy in from Economists, Labour leaders and other areas as they have a say and it increases the profile and visibility of education reforms. I agree with them that this is a positive, and feel that Gove’s greatest feat, whether you love him or hate him, was bringing Education  back to the forefront of political debate.  He made it a topic discussed around breakfast tables across the country and that can only be a good thing. The flip side is that this could de-skill teachers and remove from them some of the independence that is require in their classrooms. So educational debate on this level is good, but we need to be wary of producing something over prescriptive.

Other benefits of this approach to a collaborative approach to maths education from all sectors suggested involved the curriculum itself. The schools were trying to produce people to work in the government factories and industries and as such there was a strong focus on maths and science for all. There was also good links built between the education sector and the employers.

These societys all showed a heavy focus on mathematics, believing that mathematical advancement is paramount to the advancement of society. This lead to a hollistic approach to maths education with the aim of ensuring all young people had a strong foundation in the subject. This is an ideal I believe we should all be striving towards.

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  1. November 1, 2015 at 11:43 am

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