Book proposes a new way to think about math

New book by Kurt Stemhagen, Ph.D., and Catherine Henney, SOE doctoral student, explains what can happen when math class is taken seriously as a space for democratic education.

Cover of book authored by Dr. Stemhagen and Catherine Henney.

A new book authored by Kurt Stemhagen, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Foundations of Education, and Catherine Henney, doctoral student in the Ph.D. in Education, Concentration in Curriculum, Culture and Change program, proposes a new way of thinking about math education in our K-12 schools and how it is crucial for student development and engagement in democratic, social practices.

The book, Democracy and Mathematics Education: Rethinking School Math for Our Troubled Times (Routledge, 2021), makes the connection between two seemingly unrelated problems: the fact that many students are left behind by their school math experience, and the problems public schools have in carrying out the democratic/civic purposes of schooling. Through the book, Stemhagen and Henney explain what can happen when math class is taken seriously as a space for democratic education. The authors develop a way of thinking about the nature and purposes of math that is inclusive, participatory, and thoroughly human.

“We first offer a different approach to what math class is for, and even an alternative way of thinking about what math is,” Stemhagen said. “The result is a version of school math that is more engaging and that develops students' capacities for, and desire to be, democratic participants.”

The book should resonate with educators and philosophers alike, as well as appeal to a more general audience. For math educators, the book’s humanities approach helps the reader to see the subject anew. For philosophers, it provides an important real-world context for wrestling with perennial and timely questions, engaging democratic and evolutionary theory to transform school math. This alternative approach to mathematics and mathematics education provides a guide for how to use math to make democracy a larger part of school and wider social life.

The book is the culmination of Stemhagen's more than 20 years of teaching and thinking about school math. He is trained in and teaches philosophy of education, and for the book he draws on his own experience as a math middle school teacher. Henney, in addition to being a doctoral student, is a veteran math educator who has worked with students and teachers as a grade-level teacher and a K-8 mathematics specialist. She also teaches mathematics education courses to pre-service and in-service teachers in Virginia.

The book is available from the publisher and at major online book retailers.