Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
First-Year Seminar


FYS Section A23. Mathematics for Social Justice and Citizenship

“I know how strange it can sound to say that math literacy. . .is the key to the future of disenfranchised communities, but that’s what I think, and believe with all my heart.” – Bob Moses, civil rights leader and founder of the Algebra Project

We will begin the semester by exploring the idea of quantitative literacy as an issue of social justice: Those without adequate quantitative skills have limited options in the U.S. economy and are disadvantaged in understanding the social and political landscape in which we live. We will also apply mathematical tools to explore policy questions that have broad societal implications and to examine issues that have a more immediate local impact. For example, what decision procedures and voting systems are most fair in national political elections or in Wheaton student elections? How do we assess the allocation of shared limited goods, such as natural resources on public lands or spots in popular courses at Wheaton? What is the monetary difference between taking federally-subsidized vs private student loans? What insights can this give us about the national debt and deficit? Through the use of readings, papers and projects, the seminar will help students to understand math literacy as an issue of social justice and will illuminate how mathematics can be used as a tool for social change. The mathematics used will be accessible to all students in the seminar.

Tommy RatliffTommy Ratliff
Professor of Mathematics