Why do schools teach the mathematics that they do? In this essay, Houman Harouni asserts that educational institutions offer mathematics standards and curricula without providing convincing justifications and that students are tested on content whose purpose neither they nor their teachers clearly understand. He proposes a theoretical framework for understanding the content and pedagogy of school mathematics as a set of practices reflecting sociopolitical values, particularly in relation to labor and citizenship. Beginning with a critical study of the history of mathematics instruction, Harouni traces the origins of modern math education to the early institutions in which mathematics served a clear utilitarian purpose, and in the process he unearths common, unexamined assumptions regarding the place and form of mathematics education in contemporary society.

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