The Condo Problem: Is This Culturally Responsive Teaching?

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  • 1 Department of Mathematics, University of Wisconsin-River Falls, River Falls, WI
  • | 2 STEM instructional coach in a K–8, Chicago
  • | 3 University of Wisconsin-River Falls, River Falls, WI

Teachers will inevitably encounter mathematical problem contexts that suggest mainstream views, incorporate deficit language, or make inequities visible. This project reports on a small intervention in which prospective elementary teachers were asked to rewrite a mathematics problem exercising the cultural competence needed in both daily teaching and the critical examination of curricular documents.

As mathematics educators, each of us has a personal journey that we are currently living—a journey that is influenced by our context, our family, our friends, our co-workers, and our students. My journey as a mathematics educator began in 1991, when I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in mathematics education. At that time, teaching mathematics for me was just that – teaching mathematics. Several years passed before I wondered: How do LGBTQIA+ issues affect teaching mathematics? Asking this question, though, represented a pivotal point in my journey, as it launched a period of reading, reflection, and personal growth aimed at answering the question. 

For most of us, our personal journey involves a desire to support all students in learning mathematics. In the article “The Condo Problem: Is This Culturally Responsive Teaching?” (Nabb et al. 2020), the authors share their personal experiences, providing a narrative that communicates the importance of embracing culturally responsive teaching and inclusive pedagogy. Their journey is framed by their use of the Condo Problem, a problem that represents heteronormative views as it assumes all married couples consist of a man and a woman. The authors shared their discomfort with these heteronormative views in the problem, recognizing that such views alienate some students. They sought to support readers in identifying the heteronormative views often represented in our mathematics curricula and provide guidance on how to address this issue.
 
The Condo Problem article has drawn scrutiny, though, from the LGBTQIA+ community for its emphasis on discomfort in the authors’ journey. I recognize that the experiences of our LGBTQIA+ friends are what led to the reaction regarding the discourse centered on discomfort. Talking about equity is sometimes uncomfortable, but discomfort can lead to personal growth and progress, as was the case for the authors.  My goal with this editorial is to extract and emphasize the overall message of the article. We are all at different places in our own personal journeys toward a more inclusive mathematics experience for all, and by openly sharing theirs, the authors have encouraged readers to take their next step. 

Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK-12
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