Author (Your Name)

Silas OlsenFollow

Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Education Program


Adam Howard


I observed a single introductory calculus class at an elite college, conducted three rounds of interviews throughout the semester with ten students, interviewed the professor, and took limited field notes during class time. In line with Bernstein’s (1964) work on social class and language, I found that there were codes of mathematical language that differed by social class, with more upper-class students fluent in elaborated mathematical code. More working-class students had to learn this language throughout the semester, as they were surprised at how abstract the class was. Working-class students saw math as not valuable, which can be viewed through Anyon’s (1981) themes of resistance. Meanwhile, upper-class students saw math as a way of conceptualizing the world. Finally, I found that math has a special status in society as compared to other disciplines. It is regarded as a difficult area of study, making grades especially important to showcase status. This was internalized by all students, while ‘math is for everyone’ was a strictly upper-class belief.

Lastly, I framed my findings using the philosophy of epistemic virtues. I found that the elite values math and reason in and of itself, and thus have a self-justifying epistemic virtue of rationality which has high social status. It was imposed on students of all social classes by the class and the elite institution of the college. More working-class students had an epistemic virtue of rationality that was not as self-justifying. This imposition, this ignored mathematical epistemological mismatch between the college and its students, is epistemic classism.


epistemic injustice, social class, elite mathematics education, status of mathematics, language of mathematics, mathematical epistemology