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Cultural Bias Investigation in

Trigonometry: Sixth Edition, written by Charles P. McKeague and Mark D. Turner


C. R. Amos


Lumpkin (1987) asserts Great harm is done to African-American students and other

minorities when their history is omitted or distorted. Students are left without role models (p. 5).

In this paper, I will examine the textbook Trigonometry: Sixth Edition, written by Charles P.

McKeague and Mark D. Turner, both of Cuesta College, to examine the diversity included within

the mathematical history and application problems presented. This text is the foundation of my

spring semester of Advanced Math. Students may elect to earn dual enrollment credit for this

class, so this textbook must be followed because it was adopted by the math department at

Louisiana Tech University, with whom Mangham High School partners with to offer dual

enrollment courses in mathematics. The text surveys trigonometry and the real-world

applications of this branch of mathematics. Many of the problems expose students to

engineering applications, which is one focus of Louisiana Techs mathematics program. To

investigate bias, I will focus on chapters one, two, three, and seven of the text because they entail

many application problems.


Math historians credit the origins of modern mathematics to Ancient Greece around 580

B.C. Everything that came before is discarded as not true mathematics because formal,

deductive proofs had not been used (Lumpkin, 1987, p. 3). However, it is an atrocity to

disregard the contributions made by Ancient Egyptians to modern mathematics. The Egyptians,

who employed an immense amount of arithmetic in their society, had a numbering system based

upon ten just as we do, with the exception of place value. They calculated areas of land, volume

of granaries, taxes on crops, and angles in pyramids, just to give a small summary of their

mathematical ingenuity. In order to compute the volume of a cylindrical granary, Egyptians


required an understanding of , although the formal definition came thousands of years later

from Greek mathematicians. The Egyptian approximation of was 3.1605, an error of only 0.6

percent. Trigonometry along with a precursor to the Pythagorean Theorem have roots in Ancient

Egypt, possibly as early as 2650 B.C. (Lumpkin, 1987).

Ptolemy, Euclid, and Heron are three prominent mathematicians all from Alexandria,

Egypt who are portrayed as white Europeans in textbooks (Lumpkin, 1987). This unreality bias

is a disservice to African American students who need to view these men as heroes of their

history. Howe and Lisi (2016) point out that history should be accurate and illustrations

authentic so that the curriculum does not portray bias. Boslaugh (no date) discusses the need for

minority role models. Nineteenth and twentieth century African-American mathematicians had

to overcome many barriers yet were able to make great contributions to mathematics.

Studies have shown that schools which foster high expectations and rigorous curriculums

along with meaningful teacher-student relationships have success with minority populations.

Furthermore, these schools provide challenging content rather than implementing a slower pace

which covers less content. Providing students the opportunity to study mathematics in diverse

groups, demonstrate their expertise in nonthreatening settings, solve problems collaboratively,

and ask questions in class without the burden of being the only one (para. 27) representing

their race creates a positive atmosphere and promotes student success (Walker, 2007).

Girls are less likely to pursue a career in a math-intensive field. There is a minor

differentiation in math performance between genders. Studies have shown that girls are less

confident and more anxious about math than boys (para 6). It has also been shown that boys

tend to be more open in their approach to problems solving whereas girls tend to follow school-

taught procedures (Ganley & Lubienski, 2016). Zhu (2007) cited concurring research which

suggests a noticeable difference between the problem solving strategies of boys and girls. In

elementary math classes, boys use retrieval whereas girls use manipulatives to solve problems.

Girls preferred using standard algorithms to solve problems, which is a concrete strategy. On the

other hand, boys were more likely to implore abstract strategies. This may be due to stronger

spatial skills, which play an important role in mathematics and problem solving. The evidence

shows that improvement in spatial skills can come through training which can quash the gender

gap (Ganley & Lubienski, 2016).

The issue of gender bias in textbooks was studied in the early 1970s by Marjorie URen.

She found that 75 percent of the main characters were male and a small percentage of

illustrations portrayed females. It was also noted that stories about girls were less exciting than

those about boys. In 1972, Title IX was passed to prohibit gender discrimination in federally

funded education programs; however this did little to combat gender bias in textbooks.

Following the passage of the Womens Educational Equality Act in 1974, more attention was

given toward a more gender equal approach to education. Since that time textbook companies

have made attempts to reduce gender bias in textbooks (Blumberg, 2007).


When examining the textbook, I noted the mathematicians and philosophers who were

mentioned in the history and examples included in each lesson. I also examined how the

application problems addressed diversity. An overwhelming majority of the mathematicians

included were white males. Some of the application problems contained generic names which

signaled male or female. A few applications were about real people, such as Lance Armstrong or

George Farris, which fit the context of the specific content of that section. Since males

predominate the four chapters examined, one could infer that only white males made important

contributions to mathematics, an example of stereotyping. Names were rarely used in

applications problems. When female names were used, it was merely a token attempt at

inclusion. Most of the word problems were gender and race neutral, using the phrase a person

rather than stipulating a male or a female. Ignoring gender and race is an example of an

invisibility bias. It is possible that the authors were attempting to keep away from a linguistic

bias through the use of gender and race neutral terms.


Although this textbook contains both gender and racial bias, the mathematical content is

valid and the explanations are very useful. In order to combat the bias of the text, a teacher

should strive to diversify the historical information by including women and African-American

mathematicians. Much of this text portrays the engineering application of trigonometry, which

would be significant to students interested in an engineering career but signals that this field of

mathematics is irrelevant to other students. This can be overcome by utilizing the interests of

students when developing examples and application problems. Assignments and assessments

should be multifaceted in their design in order to broaden the opportunity for student success.

Not all students succeed with formal mathematics, but there are multiple strategies which can be

implored in a math class which will allow more students to attain success. Math teachers should

encourage student growth by reminding them that mistakes can be used to foster mathematical

understanding (Hobson, 2017). My Favorite No is an example strategy in which teachers can

lead students to discover the correct thinking in problem solving as well as uncover the mistake

in the problem and offer suggestions to remedy the error. This student-centered discussion

strategy promotes critical thinking and high student engagement (Truskowsky, 2015).

Making the effort to support diversity in the curriculum can help to prepare students to be

culturally competent, which positively influences society and helps combat bias. Seeking to

understand the interests of students and tailor the course towards their unique goals and interests

will impact learning in a positive way by enhancing the relevance of the content in the eyes of

students. A teachers attention to learning styles and communication styles will impact how

strongly a student will engage in the teaching and learning process (Howe & Lisi, 2016, p. 121).

A multicultural educator must go beyond the textbook and incorporate a variety of teaching

strategies to help all students learn and see value in the learning. This can only be accomplished

by getting to know the students, their interests, and their goals. Then, through careful reflection

and planning, a teacher can implement a course which will enable all students to be successful.


Blumberg, R. L. (2007). Gender bias in textbooks: a hidden obstacle on the road to gender

equality in education. United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization.

Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?


Boslaugh, S (no date). Minorities. http://www1.appstate.edu/~thomleyje/Moodle-


Ganley, C. & Lubienski, S. (2016). Current research on gender differences in math. Retrieved

from: http://www.nctm.org/Publications/Teaching-Children-Mathematics/Blog/Current-


Hobson, N. L. (2017). Six ways mathematics instructors can support diversity and inclusion.

Retrieved from: http://blogs.ams.org/matheducation/2017/03/06/six-ways-mathematics-


Howe, W. A., & Lisi, P. L. (2016). Becoming a multicultural educator: Developing awareness,

gaining skills, and taking action (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

Lumpkin, B. (1987). African and African-American contributions to mathematics. Retrieved



Truskowsky, M. (2015). My favorite no: A great way to celebrate student mistakes in math.

Retrieved from: http://www.collectedny.org/2015/03/my-favorite-no-a-great-way-to-


Walker, E. N. (2007). Why arent more minorities taking Advanced Math? Educational

Leadership, November 2007. Vol 65, N 3. Retrieved from:




Zhu, Z. (2007). Gender differences in mathematical problem solving patterns: A review of

literature. Instructional Educational Journal, 2007, 8(2), 187-203. Retrieved from:


Table 1 Textbook Profile

Title Trigonometry
Edition Sixth Edition
Authors Charles P. McKeague & Mark D. Turner
Publisher Thomson Higher Education, Belmont, CA
Copyright 2008
Number of Pages 500
Number of Chapters 8
Glossary Not included
Appendices Appendix A A Review of Functions
Appendix B Exponential and Logarithmic Functions
Answers to Exercises and Chapter Tests
Index Included
References Not included

Table 2 Analysis of Four Chapters

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 7

# # # #
mentions/ mentions/ mentions/ mentions/
Search Category # pages # pages # pages # pages Totals
White Males 10 / 7 11 / 9 19 / 12 4/4 44 / 32
White Females 0/0 0/0 0/0 1/1 1/1
African Americans 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0 0/0
Hispanics/Latinos/Latinas 0/0 0/0 1/1 0/0 1/1
African / Egyptian 0/0 1/1 0/0 1/1 2/2
Indian 0/0 0/0 1/1 0/0 1/1
Asian 0/0 0/0 1/1 0/0 1/1
Male / Unknown Race 0/0 6/6 1/1 2/2 9/9
Female / Unknown Race 0/0 7/6 0/0 3/3 10 / 9

Table 3 Table of Sadkers Seven Prevalent Forms of Bias

Search Category Females African Americans

Invisibility Women are mentioned only 16% No African Americans are
of the time in the four chapters mentions in the four chapters of
examined. this text. There are three
mathematicians mentioned from
Alexandria, Egypt. Ptolemy is
portrayed as a Greek astronomer;
however scholars disagree as to
whether his lineage is Greek or
Egyptian. Heron of Alexandria is
considered a Greek mathematician
although he is from Alexandria,
Stereotyping An indirect stereotype can be Although no direct stereotyping
inferred that only males have can be found, an indirect
contributed to important stereotype can be inferred that
mathematical discoveries. only whites have contributed to
important mathematical
Imbalance & Men are mentioned The imbalance shown in this text
Selectivity disproportionally more than is that no African Americans are
women throughout the text. Lance included as mathematicians or in
Armstrong was mentioned in application problems.
multiple problems because he was
considered a great cyclist. The
authors could have included a
woman cyclist to promote balance.
Unreality Since women are By ignoring the African American
underrepresented, this signals that mathematicians, the book
women have played only a minor fabricates unreality that they have
role in important mathematical made no significant contributions
contributions. to mathematics.
Fragmentation & Only once in the four chapters The text contains no fragmentation
Isolation examined was a woman or isolation due to no mention of
philosopher/mathematician cited. African Americans.
Linguistic Bias Throughout the text, the application problems are framed by using
gender and race neutral language. Examples include: a person standing
on the street, a person notices a 110-foot antenna, and a
tightrope walker is standing still
Cosmetic Bias No cosmetic bias towards women Portraying Egyptian

was found. mathematicians as white, such as

Ptolemy and Heron, represents a
cosmetic bias.