Advanced Math as Our Weapon

Students at Chicago’s Social Justice High School use advanced math to better understand the foreclosure crisis, gentrification and deportations affecting their community.
By Staff, Utne Reader
July/August 2013
Add to My MSN

Infusing advanced math with concepts like subprime lending and outsourcing, Rico Gutstein hopes to not only prepare students for college, but also give them the necessary tools to become effective agents for change.
Photo Courtesy Joe and Jeanette Archie


Content Tools

Related Content

Ten Steps for Avoiding Foreclosure

A list of 10 things you can do to keep your home, brought to you by The Nation and ACORN....

Trickle-Down Gentrification Won't Solve Housing Crisis

Cities should seek alternatives to relocating poverty in the name of development.

Smells Like Socialist Spirit

What does socialism smell like? I often wonder. Is it the scent of Stalin’s party-issued undies? Sta...

Dance Revolutionary

For the past twelve years, Ananya Chatterjea has been steadily building a movement. Her vision: to b...

Henry Ford famously said that if ordinary people understood how banking actually works “there would be a revolution before tomorrow morning.” That’s more or less the idea behind Rico Gutstein’s critical math curriculum at Chicago’s Social Justice High School (“Sojo”). Infusing advanced math with concepts like subprime lending and outsourcing, Gutstein hopes to not only prepare students for college, but also give them the necessary tools to become effective agents for change.

Living in Chicago’s impoverished Lawndale neighborhood, Sojo’s students were already deeply familiar with concepts like gentrification and displacement. In recent years high rents and new construction have displaced many African American families in North Lawndale, while South Lawndale’s Latino community has been hit hard by deportations. But while students experienced social injustice like this on a daily basis, understanding the economic realities behind it is a different story.

That’s where advanced math comes in, says Gutstein. Writing in Rethinking Schools (Spring 2013), Gutstein describes how precalculus, algebra, and statistical analysis helped his students makes sense of the displacement taking place in their community. From the real cost of a subprime mortgage to the economics of immigration policy, Gutstein’s students learned how to explore the raw numbers behind the displacement they saw and experienced.

One of the cornerstones of Gutstein’s curriculum involved calculating how much of a typical family’s mortgage payment actually reduces their principal using an equation called a discrete dynamical system. Assuming a $150,000 loan at 6 percent annualized interest, students found that for every $808 monthly payment (the highest a typical family could afford in Lawndale), only $58 went toward paying down the loan. What this meant was that after 30 years of payments, a family could still wind up owing more than $90,000. Not only that, when students compared these terms with new $285,000 condos being built in North Lawndale, it was clear how working class families were being priced out.

Astonished by findings like this, students were eager to share them in the class’ final unit. Toward the end of the year, students held public forums to discuss what they had learned about subprime mortgages, gentrification, and immigration with their families and neighbors. The presentations, titled “Our People, Our Issues: Math As Our Weapon” argued that while Lawndale’s Latino and African American communities are exploited in different ways, they “have common enemies and a common struggle.”








Post a comment below.

 

Maureen Deprez
7/11/2013 4:59:19 AM
Let's hear it for math teachers! And for their students who actually master their courses..

rob denehy
6/28/2013 7:30:45 PM
Education in finance for the "common man" is long overdue. If concepts are explained clearly at the level of comprehension of the audience, there could be much better decisions made by the public. Instead, promoters use deceptive figures and complicated measures.








Pay Now & Save $5!
First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Want to gain a fresh perspective? Read stories that matter? Feel optimistic about the future? It's all here! Utne Reader offers provocative writing from diverse perspectives, insightful analysis of art and media, down-to-earth news and in-depth coverage of eye-opening issues that affect your life.

Save Even More Money By Paying NOW!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You save an additional $5 and get 4 issues of Utne Reader for only $31.00 (USA only).

Or Bill Me Later and pay just $36 for 4 issues of Utne Reader!