Math 131             Survey – Math for Social Justice           Spring 2010


Professor:       Dave Kung

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


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

                        What the Numbers Say by Niederman and Boyum

Office Hours:                             Monday        10:50-11:50

                                                Wednesday   1:10-2:10

                                                Friday           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 will 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 and on how quickly we move, but will probably include:


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


Numbers: How do we interpret numbers in the media and in everyday life? How do we make sense of astronomically large or infinitesimally small numbers?


Distributions:  What mathematics can we use to better understand how people/wealth/taxes/resources/pollution are distributed? This leads naturally to a discussion of…


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


Surveys: Many statistics have their roots in surveys. What makes a survey valid? Why and how are some surveys skewed? What constitutes a random sample? What is the margin of error, how is it calculated, and how should you interpret it?


Voting Methods: In many cases, the result of a vote depends on what type of voting method a group uses. We will discuss various types of voting, including Borda, Condorcet, Instant Runoff Voting and others. 


Financial Math:  Last year the global economy almost ground to a halt because of some fancy financial instruments (based on complicated mathematics.) Underlying all financial systems are ideas of interest, compound interest, and inflation. What is the mathematics behind basic financial tools such as credit cards, home mortgages, and investments?


Reading the News: Part of quantitative literacy is being able to critically interpret numbers and mathematics in the news media. Each week, you’ll be asked to report on numbers or mathematics contained in an article you’ve read related to an issue of social justice. You’ll also be asked to respond to someone else’s report. These assignments will be completed online.


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 a proposal for a project that aims to change the world in a small but important way. 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 8-10 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. You must, however, directly work on the issue involved (that is, simply raising money for a charity will not be considered as an appropriate project.)


Homework: Homework assignments will come in different shapes and sizes, including problems drawn from the textbook, short writing assignments, reflections on the reading, etc. You will always have at least a day and a half to complete these assignments.




Your course grade will be determined by:


Attendance & Participation


Midterm Exam




Reading the News


Project Proposals




Final Exam



Extra Credit: The goal of forcing all students to take a mathematics course is to broaden your horizons and give you a more well-rounded view of the world. This isn’t a one-way street – it’s good for me to broaden my horizons as well. In this class you’ll earn extra credit (up to 3% of your semester grade) if you get me to broaden my horizons in some way (embarrassing is fine, but it must be professional.)


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.