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Abstract

Math education in the United States remains resistant to systemic change, and our country pays the price. Stemhagen's article "Democracy and School Math" further confirms this trend. Despite repeated calls for reform, decades of research on how people learn, millions of dollars invested in teacher professional development, and years of politicized debate, the math wars rage on—between those who believe students have the capacity to construct their own mathematical ideas and others who insist mastery of the traditional canon must come first. Meanwhile, algebra failure among secondary students remains rampant and elementary education majors report the greatest rates of math anxiety of any college major. Adults and children alike joke about being terrible at math, seemingly unaware of the extent to which this innumeracy serves as a barrier to full participation in democracy as well as to the realization of their individual goals, hopes, and dreams. In the math education community itself, there is little discussion of the unique role mathematics can play in preparing students for democracy. In this short paper, I offer a more detailed conceptualization of democratic mathematics education and discuss the role of constructivism in bringing these ideas to fruition. I suggest that a shift in the power dynamic that characterizes most mathematics classrooms will be a key component in moving beyond the gridlock.