Education’s New Obsession: Can Math be Racist?

Education's New Obsession: Can Math be Racist?

Education’s New Obsession: Can Math be Racist?

Once again, the educationists are racing to create ever more absurd ways to “teach” children.

The recent controversy over the proposed California Social Studies Curriculum is one example. This proposal was so ridiculous that the word history was spelled hxrstory (pronounced her-story) to be more inclusive. Fortunately, this proposal was rejected. However, similar minds in Seattle appear to be hard at work to repackaging those errors to appear more palatable to the general public.

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A Strange Brew of Math and Ethnic Identity

The Seattle public schools have devised a curriculum that is even more absurd than the California effort. Its “K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework” established a new postmodernist benchmark, which all intelligent and discerning people should oppose.

Even its title generates skepticism. Ethnic studies were part of the social science program in California. What possible connection do ethnic studies have with mathematics?

Indeed, this framework is not about building math skills for all students. It’s more about “social justice.”

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The framework is organized around four themes:

  • Origins, Identity, and Agency
  • Power and Oppression
  • History of Resistance and Liberation
  • Reflection and Action

The Racism of Mathematics

Analyzing any of these four themes could fill an entire article. This one will focus on the first theme, “Origins, Identity, and Agency.”

What do these ideas have to do with mathematics?  The Seattle reply is a classic piece of edu-speak. It explains that “Origins, Identity and Agency, as defined by ethnic studies, is the ways in which we ​view ourselves as mathematicians ​ and members of broader mathematical communities. Mathematical theory and application is​ rooted in the ancient histories of people and empires of color. All human endeavors include mathematical thinking; from humanities to the arts to the sciences.” (Emphasis in the original.)

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The “Learning Targets” and the “Essential Questions” within the curriculum reveal the agenda of the  Seattle school authorities.

The first concept introduced is that the present mathematical system developed in places other than Europe and America. So far, so good. The standard set of numerals in use today is often called “Hindu-Arabic” based upon the fact that the numbers themselves developed in the areas that now contain several Arab nations and Northern India. Starting about 800 A.D., they gradually replaced the more cumbersome Roman numerals. This is factual.

Postmodernist Math

After learning this, the students are then supposed to “create counter-narratives about the origins of mathematical knowledge.” Generally, a “counter-narrative” is an alternate explanation. This process is typically postmodernist. It cast doubt on absolute truth and certainties. What possible gain can a student make by devising another explanation for the development of the conventional system of mathematics when the facts are well established?

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This postmodernist approach is reflected in two of the essential questions found in the program. The first is “How important is it to be Right? What is Right? Says Who?” The second is even more obtuse, “What is the difference between being right and being a learner?”

While there is nothing wrong with questioning questionable ideas, facts must be accepted and applied, especially in the hard science of mathematics. Any other result is disastrous. A bridge engineer who used an alternate set of calculations could kill thousands of innocent people. If an architect and a builder use two different sets of principles, the resulting building will collapse. Speeding motorists will have difficulty convincing a police officer that they apply a counter-narrative to the number fifty-five, and should be excused.

Notice also that there is a deliberate attempt to separate the fact “being right” and the “learner.” It is only by constructing this artificial dichotomy that the postmodernists can sow the doubt that facts exist and that learning them is worthwhile.

What makes this program so dangerous is that it will be implemented at all levels from kindergarten to grade twelve. While the well-trained mind can easily disregard such nonsense, impressionable minds are less discerning of this madness, especially when presented by teachers for thirteen years.

Academic Illusionists

The postmodernists are only one set of forces working to promote this kind of curriculum. Another dangerous group is the educrats and educationists who are trying to patch up the sinking ship of America’s schools. Their last significant effort, the much-despised “Common Core,” is rapidly sinking. Another goal, eliminating the “achievement gap” between races and sexes, also goes unrepaired.

For these officials, such curricula divert the public’s attention from the size and expense of their errors.

A recent story in U.S. News documents the failure.

“Over the past decade, there has been no progress in either mathematics or reading performance, and the lowest-performing students are doing worse,” Peggy Carr, associate commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics…. Carr said the score drops cannot be traced to any one specific student subgroup, as almost all of them logged declines. For example, black, Hispanic, Native American and white students in fourth and eighth grades scored lower in reading in 2019 compared to 2017.”

Waste on a Massive Scale

Common Core accomplished little during its short life (2010-2018). However, it came at a massive price.  The Washington Times quoted The Federalist’s Joy Pullmann’s estimate that “Common Core has cost the nation nearly $80 billion.” While private philanthropy financed many of the initial expenses, every school system in the nation wasted vast numbers of employee hours on this useless venture. They had to purchase books and manuals. Teachers had to write new lesson plans. Compliance officers were hired to ensure that districts met the new standards.

The educrats fear of being forced to account for those vast sums might explain their resorting to identity politics. Issues of race and ethnicity figure highly in the current public discourse. In their world, the lack of success can be packaged as a product of “systemic racism.” Their new mythology extends the racist label even to mathematics.

The exact mixture of mistaken ideology and outright deception is impossible to determine. Such ludicrous ideas must be exposed and resisted. Your children’s ability to add may depend on it.