Example #39 Percentages and Injustice

What if teaching percentages made students aware of injustice?

Nat’s class wondered why bananas were needed in a maths lesson. Nat explained that they were going to do ‘banana maths’ and learn about percentages.

"My class had been doing work on percentages and this was the summary lesson. I wanted them to use real situations and see how facts and figures can make us think about important issues. I wanted them to see how relevant maths is, as well as making them aware of issues of justice. I gave the class the figures about bananas using the the banana link website (http://www.bananalink.org.uk/node/8). We looked at how much of what we pay for bananas goes to the grower, and what goes to other people involved in the process. We sliced bananas to represent these percentages and labelled the slices with food flags.

"We then looked at the difference Fairtrade made to the percentages and the grower’s life and cut the fair-trade bananas to reflect the different percentages. These too were labelled. We talked about how our buying choices could affect other people's lives a long way away, and how our choice could affect whether justice happens. The students invited their parents – who came to collect them – to taste the fair-trade bananas.’

What’s going on here?

Nat saw her maths lesson as a time to explore values and relate maths to big questions about justice that affect the wider world.

She engaged students in exploring how their maths learning connected with big questions and focusing outward.

She reshaped her practice by changing her examples and using objects as a focus (percentages on fair-trade bananas, relating percentages to the growers).

How do I do this myself?

What does this have to do with faith, hope and love?

Sometimes learning can feel disconnected from people; handling data and manipulating figures can seem a world away from everyday life. By connecting learning and life we can reflect the pattern of faith which is personal and shapes how we live. To keep learning abstract and disconnected from life can unintentionally reinforce a mindset that does the same with faith. The Bible stresses the connections between people and their responsibility to each other. What we do in one part of the world affects other people far away. Christian love means we can never talk about people in terms of just numbers. That does not mean we can never work with numbers on their own, it just means that sometimes we need reminders that the numbers represent real people with real lives.

What difference does it make?

Using examples that raise issues of justice makes maths values-rich and relevant to life. However, care needs to be taken that there is not a ‘build up’ effect and students do not just feel guilty or overwhelmed. This is particularly true with young children who may have little choice or power. Their role might simply be to raise awareness in others.

Where could we go from here?

Students could use maths with a range of important issues; maths could begin to be seen as a tool for justice.

I think if I was going back now I would be choosing a different set of examples, not simply teaching percentages of profit and loss or earning – and if it was saving it might be for some overseas project rather than a new dress or a new bike. Ken Shorey, Member of the Church of England general synod, former maths teacher (Harborough Mail, 13 July 2011)

Digging deeper

Maths is not ‘values-free’; it is not a ring-fenced area of life where Christian values do not apply; for Christians there is no such thing as neutral ground. All life is God’s and Christian values affect everything. That means there is no part of the curriculum where values do not apply.

We need to explore different models from a Christian perspective of how we approach all the curriculum, not just RE. Bishop Paul Butler, Southwell & Nottingham (Harborough Mail, 13 July 2011)

Faith is not an abstract set of beliefs that are practised by individuals on their own; it is about translating a relationship with God into a way of life lived in community, and that community is world-wide. Issues of justice for banana growers in the Caribbean are relevant to Christians wherever they live, and Christianity is a world-wide family.

Nat put the emphasis on justice for banana growers. God calls people to follow ‘justice and only justice’ (Deuteronomy 16:20). God's justice shows itself in acting on behalf of the powerless (Psalm 72:1-20; Psalm 7:1-17; Psalm 12:1-8) often represented as the orphan, the widow and the stranger – those with no one to defend them and who are often treated unfairly. God expects his people to make justice and redressing wrongs their aim (Isaiah 1:13-17).

Charity is no substitute for justice withheld. St Augustine

In the moral sphere, every act of justice or charity involves putting ourselves in the other person's place and thus transcending our own competitive particularity. C. S. Lewis

The Bible describes God as a God of justice and the prophet Amos thundered against the injustices of his day where the vulnerable were oppressed and the rich just got richer. He called for justice to roll like a river (Amos 5:24). People seem to have an innate sense of justice and are rightly outraged at the injustice they see in the world (Malachi 2:17).

Explore similar examples:

What if a maths lesson helped students to think about giving?
What if maths stimulated pupils to ask big questions?
What if pie charts were about facing truth?

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1People of Israel, you must celebrate Passover in the month of Abib, because one night in that month years ago, the Lord your God rescued you from Egypt. 2The Passover sacrifice must be a cow, a sheep, or a goat, and you must offer it at the place where the Lord chooses to be worshipped. 3Eat all the meat of the Passover sacrifice that same night. But don't serve bread made with yeast at the Passover meal. Serve the same kind of thin bread that you ate when you were slaves suffering in Egypt and when you had to leave Egypt quickly. As long as you live, this thin bread will remind you of the day you left Egypt. For seven days following Passover, don't make any bread with yeast. In fact, there should be no yeast anywhere in Israel. 5Don't offer the Passover sacrifice in any town where you happen to live. 6It must be offered at the place where the Lord chooses to be worshipped. Kill the sacrifice at sunset, the time of day when you left Egypt. 7Then cook it and eat it there at the place of worship, returning to your tents the next morning. 8Eat thin bread for the next six days. Then on the seventh day, don't do any work. Instead, come together and worship the Lord . The Harvest Festival (Exodus 34.22; Leviticus 23.15-21) Moses said to Israel: 9Seven weeks after you start your grain harvest, 10go to the place where the Lord chooses to be worshipped and celebrate the Harvest Festival in honour of the Lord your God. Bring him an offering as large as you can afford, depending on how big a harvest he has given you. Be sure to take along your sons and daughters and all your servants. Also invite the poor, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. 12Remember that you used to be slaves in Egypt, so obey these laws. The Festival of Shelters (Leviticus 23.33-43; Numbers 29.12-38) Moses said to Israel: 13After you have finished the grain harvest and the grape harvest, take your sons and daughters and all your servants to the place where the Lord chooses to be worshipped. Celebrate the Festival of Shelters for seven days. Also invite the poor, including Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows. The Lord will give you big harvests and make you successful in everything you do. You will be completely happy, so celebrate this festival in honour of the Lord your God. Three festivals at the place of worship (Exodus 23.14-17) Moses said: 16Each year there are three festivals when all Israelite men must go to the place where the Lord chooses to be worshipped. These are the Festival of Thin Bread, the Harvest Festival, and the Festival of Shelters. And don't forget to take along a gift for the Lord . 17The bigger the harvest the Lord gives you, the bigger your gift should be. Treat everyone with justice Moses said to Israel: 18After you are settled in the towns that you will receive from the Lord your God, the people in each town must appoint judges and other officers. Those of you who become judges must be completely fair when you make legal decisions, even if someone important is involved. Don't take bribes to give unfair decisions. Bribes keep people who are wise from seeing the truth and turn honest people into liars. 20People of Israel, if you want to enjoy a long and successful life, make sure that everyone is treated with justice in the land the Lord is giving you. Don't set up sacred poles or stones Moses said to Israel: 21When you build the altar for offering sacrifices to the Lord your God, don't set up a sacred pole for the worship of the goddess Asherah. 22And don't set up a sacred stone! The Lord hates these things. Sacrifices that have something wrong with them Moses said to Israel:
1Please help the king to be honest and fair just like you, our God. 2Let him be honest and fair with all your people, especially the poor. 3Let peace and justice rule every mountain and hill. 4Let the king defend the poor, rescue the homeless, and crush everyone who hurts them. 5Let the king live for ever like the sun and the moon. 6Let him be as helpful as rain that refreshes the meadows and the ground. 7Let the king be fair with everyone, and let there be peace until the moon falls from the sky. 8Let his kingdom reach from sea to sea, from the River Euphrates across all the earth. 9Force the desert tribes to accept his rule, and make his enemies crawl in the dust. 10Force the rulers of Tarshish and of the islands to pay taxes to him. Make the kings of Sheba and of Seba bring gifts. 11Make other rulers bow down and all nations serve him. 12Do this because the king rescues the homeless when they cry out, and he helps everyone who is poor and in need. 13The king has pity on the weak and the helpless and protects those in need. 14He cares when they suffer, and he saves them from cruel and violent deaths. 15Long live the king! Give him gold from Sheba. Always pray for the king and praise him each day. 16Let cities overflow with food and hills be covered with grain, just like Mount Lebanon. Let the people in the cities prosper like wild flowers. 17May the glory of the king shine brightly for ever like the sun in the sky. Let him make nations prosper and learn to praise him. 18Lord God of Israel, we praise you. Only you can work miracles. 19We will always praise your glorious name. Let your glory be seen everywhere on earth. Amen and amen. 20This ends the prayers of David, the son of Jesse. (Psalms 7389) (A psalm by Asaph.) God is good
1You, Lord God, are my protector. Rescue me and keep me safe from all who chase me. 2Or else they will rip me apart like lions attacking a victim, and no one will save me. 3I am innocent, Lord God! 4I have not betrayed a friend or had pity on an enemy who attacks for no reason. 5If I have done any of this, then let my enemies chase and capture me. Let them trample me to death and leave me in the dirt. 6Get angry, Lord God! Do something! Attack my furious enemies. See that justice is done. 7Make the nations come to you, as you sit on your throne above them all. 8Our Lord , judge the nations! Judge me and show that I am honest and innocent. 9You know every heart and mind, and you always do right. Now make violent people stop, but protect all of us who obey you. 10You, God, are my shield, the protector of everyone whose heart is right. 11You see that justice is done, and each day you take revenge. 12Whenever your enemies refuse to change their ways, you sharpen your sword and string your bow. 13Your deadly arrows are ready with flaming tips. 14An evil person is like a woman about to give birth to a hateful, deceitful, and rebellious child. 15Such people dig a deep hole, then fall in it themselves. 16The trouble they cause comes back on them, and their heads are crushed by their own evil deeds. 17I will praise you, Lord ! You always do right. I will sing about you, the Lord Most High. (A psalm by David for the music leader. ) The wonderful name of the Lord
1Please help me, Lord ! All who were faithful and all who were loyal have disappeared. 2Everyone tells lies, and no one is sincere. 3Won't you chop off all flattering tongues that boast so loudly? 4They say to themselves, We are great speakers. No one else has a chance. 5But you, Lord , tell them, I will do something! The poor are ill-treated and helpless people moan. I'll rescue all who suffer. 6Our Lord , you are true to your promises, and your word is like silver heated seven times in a fiery furnace. 7You will protect us and always keep us safe from those people. 8But all who are wicked will keep on strutting, while everyone praises their shameless deeds. (A psalm by David for the music leader.) A prayer for the Lord 's help
1I am Isaiah, the son of Amoz. And this is the message that I was given about Judah and Jerusalem when Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah were the kings of Judah: A guilty nation 2The Lord has said, Listen, heaven and earth! The children I raised have turned against me. 3Oxen and donkeys know who owns and feeds them, but my people won't ever learn. 4Israel, you are a sinful nation loaded down with guilt. You are wicked and corrupt and have turned from the Lord , the holy God of Israel. 5Why be punished more? Why not give up your sin? Your head is badly bruised, and you are weak all over. 6From your head to your toes there isn't a healthy spot. Bruises, cuts, and open sores go without care or oil to ease the pain. A country in ruins 7Your country lies in ruins; your towns are in ashes. Foreigners and strangers take and destroy your land while you watch. 8Enemies surround Jerusalem, alone like a hut in a vineyard or in a cucumber field. 9Zion would have disappeared like Sodom and Gomorrah, if the Lord All-Powerful had not let a few of its people survive. Justice, not sacrifices 10You are no better than the leaders and people of Sodom and Gomorrah! So listen to the Lord God: 11Your sacrifices mean nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings of rams and choice cattle; I don't like the blood of bulls or lambs or goats. 12Who asked you to bring all this when you come to worship me? Stay out of my temple! 13Your sacrifices are worthless, and incense is disgusting. I can't stand the evil you do on your New Moon Festivals or on your Sabbaths and other times of worship. 14I hate your New Moon Festivals and all others as well. They are a heavy burden I am tired of carrying. 15No matter how much you pray, I won't listen. You are too violent. 16Wash yourselves clean! I am disgusted with your filthy deeds. Stop doing wrong 17and learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need. An invitation from the Lord 18I, the Lord , invite you to come and talk it over. Your sins are scarlet red, but they will be whiter than snow or wool. 19If you willingly obey me, the best crops in the land will be yours. 20But if you turn against me, your enemies will kill you. I, the Lord , have spoken. The Lord condemns Jerusalem 21Jerusalem, you are like an unfaithful wife. Once your judges were honest and your people lived right; now you are a city full of murderers. 22Your silver is fake, and your wine is watered down. 23Your leaders have rejected me to become friends of crooks; your rulers are looking for gifts and bribes. Widows and orphans never get a fair trial. 24I am the Lord All-Powerful, the mighty ruler of Israel, and I make you a promise: you are now my enemy, and I will show my anger by taking revenge on you. 25I will punish you terribly and burn away everything that makes you unfit to worship me. 26Jerusalem, I will choose judges and advisers like those you had before. Your new name will be Justice and Faithfulness. The Lord will save Jerusalem 27Jerusalem, you will be saved by showing justice; Zion's people who turn to me will be saved by doing right. 28But those rebellious sinners who turn against me, the Lord , will all disappear. 29You will be made ashamed of those groves of trees where you worshipped idols. 30You will be like a grove of trees dying in a drought. 31Your strongest leaders will be like dry wood set on fire by their idols. No one will be able to help, as they all go up in flames. Peace that lasts for ever
1Listen, nation of Israel, to my mournful message: 2you, dearest Israel, have fallen, never to rise again you lie deserted in your own land, with no one to help you up. 3The Lord God has warned, From every ten soldiers only one will be left; from a thousand troops, only a hundred will survive. 4The Lord keeps saying, Israel, turn back to me and you will live! 5Don't go to Gilgal or Bethel or even to Beersheba. Gilgal will be dragged away, and Bethel will end up as nothing. 6Turn back to the Lord , you descendants of Joseph, and you will live. If you don't, the Lord will attack like fire. Bethel will burn to the ground, and no one can save it. 7You people are doomed! You twist the truth and trample on justice. 8But the Lord created the stars and put them in place. He turns darkness to dawn and daylight to darkness; he scoops up the ocean and empties it on the earth. 9God destroys mighty soldiers and strong fortresses. Choose good instead of evil! The Lord said: 10You people hate judges and honest witnesses; 11you abuse the poor and demand heavy taxes from them. You have built expensive homes, but you won't enjoy them; you have planted vineyards, but you will get no wine. 12I am the Lord , and I know your terrible sins. You cheat honest people and take bribes; you rob the poor of justice. 13Times are so evil that anyone with good sense will keep quiet. 14If you really want to live, you must stop doing wrong and start doing right. I, the Lord God All-Powerful, will then be on your side, just as you claim I am. 15Choose good instead of evil! See that justice is done. Perhaps I, the Lord All-Powerful, will be kind to what's left of your people. Judgment is coming 16This is what the Lord has sworn: Noisy crying will be heard in every town and street. Even farmers will be told to mourn for the dead, together with those who are paid to mourn. 17Your vineyards will be filled with crying and weeping, because I will punish you. I, the Lord , have spoken! When the Lord judges 18You look forward to the day when the Lord comes to judge. But you are in for trouble! It won't be a time of sunshine; all will be darkness. 19You will run from a lion, only to meet a bear. You will escape to your house, rest your hand on the wall, and be bitten by a snake. 20The day when the Lord judges will be dark, very dark, without a ray of light. What the Lord demands 21I, the Lord , hate and despise your religious celebrations and your times of worship. 22I won't accept your offerings or animal sacrifices not even your very best. 23No more of your noisy songs! I won't listen when you play your harps. 24But let justice and fairness flow like a river that never runs dry. 25Israel, for forty years you wandered in the desert, without bringing offerings or sacrifices to me. 26Now you will have to carry the two idols you made Sakkuth, the one you call king, and Kaiwan, the one you built in the shape of a star. 27I will force you to march as captives beyond Damascus. I, the Lord God All-Powerful, have spoken! Israel will be punished
1I, the Lord All-Powerful, have something else to say to you priests. 2You had better take seriously the need to honour my name. Otherwise, when you give a blessing, I will turn it into a curse. In fact, I have already done this, because you haven't taken to heart your duties as priests. 3I will punish your descendants and rub your faces in the manure from your animal sacrifices, and then be done with you. 4I am telling you this, so I can continue to keep my agreement with your ancestor Levi. 5I blessed him with a full life, as I had promised, and he kept his part of the agreement by honouring me and respecting my name. 6He taught the truth and never told lies, and he led a lot of people to turn from sin, because he obeyed me and lived right. 7You priests should be eager to spread knowledge, and everyone should come to you for instruction, because you speak for me, the Lord All-Powerful. 8But you have turned your backs on me. Your teachings have led others to do sinful things, and you have broken the agreement I made with your ancestor Levi. 9So I caused everyone to hate and despise you, because you disobeyed me and failed to treat all people alike. 10Don't you know that we all have God as our Father? Didn't the one God create each of us? Then why do you cheat each other by breaking the agreement God made with your ancestors? 11You people in Judah and Jerusalem have been unfaithful to the Lord . You have disgraced the temple that he loves, and you have committed the disgusting sin of worshipping other gods. 12I pray that the Lord will no longer let those who are guilty belong to his people, even if they eagerly decide to offer the Lord a gift. 13And what else are you doing? You cry noisily and flood the Lord 's altar with your tears, because he isn't pleased with your offerings and refuses to accept them. 14And why isn't God pleased? It's because he knows that each of you men has been unfaithful to the wife you married when you were young. You promised that she would be your partner, but now you have broken that promise. 15Didn't God create you to become like one person with your wife? And why did he do this? It was so you would have children, and then lead them to become God's people. Don't ever be unfaithful to your wife. 16The Lord God All-Powerful of Israel hates anyone who is cruel enough to divorce his wife. So take care never to be unfaithful! 17You have worn out the Lord with your words. And yet, you ask, How did we do that? You did it by saying, The Lord is pleased with evil and doesn't care about justice. The promised messenger