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Urban schools, for many African American students, have effectively become a space for the perpetuation of modern slavery. Large numbers of students, particularly Black males, are being funneled without choice into low-wage labor sectors, military service, underground economies and, eventually, prisons or worse. Key work by math education researchers like Martin (2000; 2006) has shown that ‘race’ and ‘racialization’ are salient aspects of African American students’ experiences in urban schools and broader society that contribute to marginalization in math classrooms and, by extension, myriad avenues of social and economic participation. By purposely grounding race and identity at the forefront of the discourse on African American math achievement, the author attempts to go beyond pipeline arguments to explore the development of racial and mathematics identities, as well as social agency, in alternative spaces to the mathematics classroom – and the subsequent impact that these factors may have on the teaching and learning of mathematics in this study.

This dissertation study centers on the experiences of seven high school-aged Black males with whom the author conducted participatory action research (PAR) in an alternative mathematics classroom in South Los Angeles. The study has several foci: (i) To explore identity by critically engaging high school-aged Black males in research on topics relevant to local urban communities; (ii) to engage Black males in the use of mathematics as a tool for conducting critical research, towards the end of reorienting students to the nature and utility of mathematics; (iii) to determine the degree to which the employment of a critical pedagogical stance can foster the development of (critical) mathematical literacy for these youth; and, (iv) to develop a fuller understanding of how the structures of urban schools and space shape the experience of Black males both inside and outside the math classroom.

Utilizing a critical ethnographic methodology to privilege student voice, the study highlights the alternative math classroom as a co-constructed “counter-space” (Solórzano, Ceja & Yosso, 2000) wherein mathematical counterstory-telling is developed as a normative and sophisticated tool for challenging dominant narratives, structures and other forces which negatively shape the schooling experiences of Black males.


This is a compact version of the dissertation. Contact Professor Terry for the full dissertation.

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