Math 131             Survey – Math for Social Justice           Spring 2009


Professor:       Dave Kung

Office:             175 Schaefer Hall, x4433 or 240-895-4433


Text:                For All Practical Purposes by COMAP (7th edition)

Office Hours:                             Monday        10:50-11:50

                                                Wednesday   1:10-2:10

                                                Thursday       9:00-10:00                  


In this section of Survey we will use mathematics to better understand justice, fairness, and equality.  Then we will use that new knowledge to improve the world.

Mathematics be used to explore issues of social, political and economic justice.  Math can be used to change the world, and make it a more fair and just place.  We’ll use the power of mathematics as an essential analytic tool in understanding justice issues in our community and in the world. 


Topics will vary depending on your interests, but will probably include:


possibly include distributions, probability and statistics, voting theory, game theory, fair division, and others if time permits.  Issues we’ll explore will include income distribution and poverty, political representation, job discrimination, racial profiling, and more. 


You will be expected to apply your knowledge to an issue you’re passionate about, working with others to change the world.


Here is a list of the topics we'll cover:


Quantitative Literacy. What does it mean to be quantitatively literate? What should people know in order to be responsible citizens in a democracy?


Distributions:  What mathematics can we use to better understand how people/wealth/taxes/resources/pollution are distributed? What is a fair distribution?


Statistics: How do we use statistics to translate data into a story? How can statistics be manipulated into spinning a particular story?


Financial Math:  We all have to deal with finances. What is the mathematics behind basic financial tools such as credit cards, home mortgages, and compound interest?


Fair Division and Apportionment.  Some methods of fair division.  Methods of apportioning the House of Representatives


Voting Methods.   Borda, Condorcet, Instant Runoff Voting and others.  Fairness Criteria of Methods.  Weighted voting and the Banzhaf and Shapley-Shubik power distributions.  Manipulability of voting methods.  Electing the President.  Game Theory




Your course grade will be determined by:


Attendance & Participation


Midterm Exam




Project Proposals




Final Exam



Projects:  As advertised, a main focus of this course is on actually making the world around us a better, more just place. We will work to enact justice through a semester-long project.


Early in the semester you will be required to write up proposals for two different projects. In a single page, you should layout the basic issue you hope to address, how mathematics will be needed to understand and address it, what your initial plan of attack is, and what you hope to accomplish this semester on your issue. In class, you will have an opportunity to pitch your idea to the class, with the goal of attracting other students to your cause.


After everyone has pitched their ideas, we will divide into 10-15 groups, each tackling one proposal, or a combination of several closely related proposals. The project will last the rest of the semester as you work to study the issue, understand it better using mathematics, and work toward change.


As for the scope of the projects, this is largely up to you. Change might happen in small amounts on a large scale, or in larger increments on a smaller scale. Both types of projects will be valued.


Student Conduct:  Violations of Student Code of Conduct, such as copying, plagiarizing, and faking data will not be tolerated.  This is a course about justice; violating these basic tenets of academic honesty is a violation of my trust and that of your classmates. The rules are clear, and the consequences stiff.