The math wars: communities of meaning within the critics of school mathematics reforms

by Patricia Anne Wagner

Institution: University of Georgia
Department: Mathematics Education
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Keywords: Math Wars
Record ID: 2024710
Full text PDF: http://purl.galileo.usg.edu/uga_etd/wagner_patricia_a_201408_phd


Over the course of United States history, there have been numerous attempts to reform school mathematics in order to increase student achievement. Although the methods of reform have varied, a common theme has emerged: The reform encounters a political backlash that forces a retreat into traditional instructional materials and methods. This research study examined the beliefs and motivations of those on one side of the “math wars,” a struggle over the goals and methods for school mathematics that originated in the 1990s. In her policy work, Yannow (2000) described individuals reacting to policies as inhabiting communities of meaning: groups in which “cognitive, linguistic, and cultural practices reinforce each other, to the point at which shared sense is more common than not, and policy-relevant groups become ‘interpretive communities’ sharing thought, speech, practice, and their meanings” (p. 10). I drew upon this interpretation to describe the communities of meaning of those who took a reactive position in the math wars; that is, critics of school mathematics reforms. Using this framework in conjunction with Green’s (1971) and Rokeach’s (1968) interpretations of belief systems, I identified three communities of meaning and described their primary lenses for viewing school mathematics and reforms. These descriptions enabled me to infer each group’s motivation for political activism against the reforms. The findings from this study have implications for the political advocates of reforms, educational researchers, and those charged with implementing school mathematics reforms.