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Multicultural Issues Necessary for Teacher Preparation in Mathematics: Moving beyond Awareness

chappellby Michaele F. Chappell and Deborah H. Najee-ullah
October 2000

Interest in multicultural issues has increased within the mathematics-education community in recent years. Because of the growing commitment to teach all children meaningful mathematics, efforts to address mathematics from various cultures have unfolded as multicultural artifacts to display—for example, posters, calendars, and quilts—and the acknowledgment of holidays to celebrate. Such window dressings offered minimal student encounters with cultural effects but were inadequate; more substantive instruction of multicultural issues in mathematics was needed. Continued efforts occurred through introducing cultural topics in curriculum-resource materials. This inclusion was typically anecdotal, limited in nature, and presented in a mathematical context with little utility or relevance for students. More recently, interest, research, and activity regarding culturally relevant pedagogy have increased.

Our attention has focused on cultural topics for school mathematics, with little attention devoted to multicultural issues that affect the preparation of mathematics teachers. Perhaps this occurs because multicultural-ism and issues together as a field are ill-defined. Generally, teacher education has worked from such established research models as those of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Bloom. However, regarding multicultural issues, the mathematics-education research base is limited. Without such a base, teacher educators have no structural basis to guide the meaningful integration of these issues into instruction. In practice, we therefore remain stymied in moving multicultural issues beyond a level of awareness.

Successful work in this area must be grounded in essential beliefs and assumptions and based on fundamental considerations. We must accept and value that all people have knowledge, continuously create knowledge, and engage in intellectual work worth understanding, honoring, and celebrating. This view is at the heart of valuing the inclusion of multicultural issues in teaching—a core principle to encourage among teachers that we prepare.

A true appreciation for differences that transcends mere tolerance is needed. Tolerance implies a temporary acceptance of someone who deviates from one's standard, whereas appreciation requires a commitment to value and understand another's differences. The mathematical knowledge and perspective of different cultures must assume more than a token role of "honorable mention" in the historical and continued development of mathematical thinking, and they must be understood and embraced as valued contributions. The beliefs of acceptance, valuing, and appreciation affect how effectively teachers are prepared to appreciate, communicate, and respond to students from cultural backgrounds that differ from their own.

As an integral part of instruction, prospective mathematics teachers must experience effective practices that demonstrate multicultural issues. Consequently, culturally relevant pedagogy should consistently be reflected in the education of mathematics teachers. Moreover, multicultural issues are concerns for all who are responsible for preparing mathematics teachers. To our knowledge, a lack of coordinated effort is evident among mathematicians, mathematics educators, foundations teachers, and clinical teacher educators to make multicultural ideas an integral part of their practice. Such an effort is essential. By committing collectively to the aforementioned ideas, we may indeed move beyond awareness of the importance of multicultural issues in teacher preparation to more substantive and deliberate efforts.


Michaele Chappell,, a mathematics educator at the University of South Florida, Tampa, has served as the editor of the "Take Time for Action" department of Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School and as a member of the NCTM's Research Advisory Committee.

Deborah Najee-ullah,, a mathematics educator at Georgia State University, has served as the project investigator for the Atlanta Math Project, funded by the National Science Foundation, and is currently serving on the NCTM's Research Advisory Committee.


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