From the few to the many: historical perspectives on who should learn mathematics. (English)

Clements, M. A. (ed.) et al., Third international handbook of mathematics education. Berlin: Springer (ISBN 978-1-4614-4683-5/hbk; 978-1-4614-4684-2/ebook). Springer International Handbooks of Education 27, 7-40 (2013).

Summary: Today we take for granted that everybody should be offered the opportunity to learn mathematics. However, it was not until well into the 20th century that “mathematics for all” became an achievable goal. Before then, the geographical location of schools in relation to children’s homes, the availability (or non-availability) of teachers capable of teaching mathematics, parental attitudes to schooling, economic circumstances of families, and social and psychological presuppositions and prejudices about mathematical ability or giftedness, all influenced greatly whether a child might have the opportunity to learn mathematics. Moreover, in many cultures the perceived difference between two social functions of mathematics ‒ its utilitarian function and its capability to sharpen the mind and induce logical thinking ‒ generated mathematics curricula and forms of teaching in local schools which did not meet the needs of some learners. This chapter identifies a historical progression towards the achievement of mathematics for all: from schooling for all, to arithmetic for all, to basic mathematics for all; to secondary mathematics for all; to mathematical modelling for all; and to quantitative literacy for all.