Formulating the Problem: Identifying Mathematical Literacy
Attempts to understand success-and more often failure-in mathematics education have drawn on a number of different approaches in the fields of psychology, sociology and linguistics. The range is vast: it includes cognitive modeling of arithmetic algorithms; cognitive constructivist theories of concept development; social-psychological analyses of motivation patterns; psychoanalytic explanations of emotional responses to mathematics such as fear and anxiety; feminist and discourse-based analyses of exclusion and inclusion; and social constructivist approaches which focus on cultural mediation and apprenticeship. Here, I take the position that mathematics is a social practice, a standpoint that I developed in an earlier book (Solomon, 1989). My argument then was that Piagetian cognitive constructivist conceptions of mathematics and learning could not explain how mathematical ideas could develop in an individual learner alone, and that mathematical knowledge had to be seen as intrinsically social in order to make sense of the learning we do. My aim now is to explore this latter issue further by looking more closely at the ways in which learners develop identities of participation or marginalization within formal learning contexts, and how they consequently gain-or fail to gain-access to the central meaning-making practices of mathematics-that is, how they become mathematically literate. In this chapter, I set the scene for this exploration by reviewing theory and research which describe mathematics and mathematics learning as inherently social and cultural activities, and introducing the initial theoretical framework which underpins my analysis of what it means to become mathematically literate.