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You have probably heard that math is racist. Most people don’t understand how that’s possible. The quadratic formula solves for x equally well for Zulus or Arabs. I’m not the first to be baffled by this. In 1987 — 34 years ago — Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher gave a speech in which she lamented that: “children who need to be able to count and multiply are learning anti-racist mathematics — whatever that may be.”
I was hoping for answers in a February 2020 article called: “How Mathematics Can be an Anti-Racist, Feminist Enterprise.” But it was a bust. The author talked about “dismantling the whiteness of mathematics,” but she got no further than saying “if we can agree that mathematics can operate as whiteness, then we have a moral duty to ask how mathematics might be otherwise.” She’s not even sure about that “if.”
Well, the state of Oregon has found the solution. It will promote a teacher program to undo the racism in mathematics.
It’s all in this workbook: “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction.”
Here is the key concept: “White supremacy culture infiltrates math classrooms in everyday teacher actions. Coupled with the beliefs that underlie these actions, they perpetuate educational harm on Black, Latinx, and multilingual students.” (p. 6) Please note that this doesn’t include Asians. White supremacy in math doesn’t seem to hurt them. The writing in this workbook is terrible, by the way.
In any case, the goal — stated right here on page one — is “dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms by visibilizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture.” p. 1
My visiblizing is a little weak, but the workbook tells you how to do it. It has a series of statements that begin with, “White supremacy culture shows up in math classrooms when… – and in this case – Students are tracked. Too often students are tracked based on the notion that adults know what the right thing is for them, which does not allow room for student agency, reinforcing paternalism and powerhoarding.” Paternalism and powerhoarding are italicized, because they are especially white supremacist. I didn’t realize that adults thinking they know better than children was white supremacy, and powerhoarding is a new concept for me.
It’s also white supremacy when “State standards guide learning in the classroom.” It is “our duty as antiracist educators to unpack how the standards uphold white supremacy culture.” p. 23 They uphold white supremacy because “they limit the myriad ways of teaching and learning mathematics in other cultures and countries.” I think this means Jose will learn better if he is taught Eskimo math, but I’m not sure.
This one puzzled me: “White supremacy culture shows up in math classrooms when… “Real-world math” is valued over math in the real world.” They sound the same to me, but if you don’t understand the difference, “this can result in using mathematics to uphold capitalist and imperialist ways of being . . .” p. 58. And that’s white supremacist.
This one completely lost me.
White supremacy culture shows up in math classrooms when… “Good” math teaching is considered an antidote for mathematical inequity for Black, Latinx, multilingual students. This reinforces either/or thinking – that is another one of those italicized “white supremacy” words – by reinforcing stereotypes about the type of mathematical education that certain groups of students receive. It allows the defensiveness of Western mathematics to prevail, without addressing underlying causes of why certain groups of students are “underperforming,” a characterization that should also be interrogated. It also presupposes that “good” math teaching is about a Eurocentric type of mathematics, devoid of cultural ways of being. p. 38 If you can understand this, let me know. And bear in mind that this is for people teaching grades six through eight.
Some of it is easier to understand. It’s white supremacy if you teach math skills sequentially, building on what went before, because this reinforces objectivity. Objectivity is another italicized, white-supremacist word.
The usual way of grading – taking away points if you get something wrong – is white supremacist, because this “indicates what students can’t do rather than what they can do, reinforcing perfectionism.” Perfectionism is another italicized no-no.
Asking students to show their work is supremacist because that “reinforces worship of the written word as well as paternalism.” Those are both italicized no-nos.
It’s also white supremacy when “The focus is on getting the ‘right’ answer. The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so. Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict. As you can see, both are italicized and therefore bad. p. 65. The way to show there can be many right answers is to “unpack the assumptions of the problem.” Here’s an exercise for you. Unpack the assumptions of x = 2 + 3. Then find three equally good values for x.
You’re also propping up white supremacy if you don’t encourage teamwork in math. “This does not give value to collectivism and community understanding, and fosters conditions for competition and individual success” p. 61. Should teachers encourage teamwork on exams? If not, why not?
Here’s more white supremacy: “Teachers often treat mistakes as problems by equating them with wrongness, rather than treating them opportunities for learning—which reinforces the ideas of *perfectionism* (that students shouldn’t make mistakes) and *paternalism* (teachers or other experts can and should correct mistakes).” p. 68. I thought teachers were supposed to correct mistakes; now I know that’s white supremacy.
There’s plenty more, but you get the idea.
Some of it’s just nutty. There isn’t always one right answer. Don’t correct mistakes. Math supports capitalism. Part of it is just taking words like “perfectionism,” “objectivity,” and “powerhoarding,” and calling them “white supremacy.”
So how do you stop being an objective, perfectionist powerhoarder?
Here are some answers, verbatim:
Design a culturally sustaining math space. Adapt homework policies to fit the needs of students of color. Connect mathematics with student’s cultural roots. Expose students to mathematicians of color, particularly women of color and queer mathematicians of color. Provide learning opportunities that use math as resistance. Identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views. Intentionally integrate physical movement in math classes.
Who can possibly believe Jose is going to learn math better if you tell him to jump around the class and not worry about getting the right answers? What is 7th-grader Shaniqua going to get out it if you hunt down a “queer mathematician of color” to exhibit in class? What teacher has the time to figure out the difference between real-world math and math in the real world? Everything in this workbook will hurt students.
Who funds this rubbish? The authors thank the Gates Foundation, which proves that rich people can do awfully stupid things.
And who writes this stuff and why? The number-one “content developer” is Sonia Michelle Cintron. This is the best picture I can find. She doesn’t look as though she wants Jose to fail geometry. So, is this just an assault on whiteness, and who cares if Jose fails? I’m not sure it’s that, either. The closer you look, the crazier it gets.
Remember: This is all about rooting out racism, which is keeping Jose down. The only explanation I can think of is that this is the lunacy you get when you refuse to accept race differences and think the most important goal for education – for life in America, really – is to root out white supremacy. I think people are so blinded by anti-racist hysteria they think they have to do *something* to fight The Great Satan. It makes no difference whether it’s absurd on its face and will hurt students. We’re fighting for equity!
Here is the racial mix in Oregon public schools. The dark blue bar on the left is whites and the little sliver next to them is blacks. Whites are still more than 60 percent of students, but they are going to be fed this baloney along with everyone else. p. 5. Probably most of the school bureaucrats forcing this on teachers are white. What are they thinking? Can they think?
God help Oregon. God help any country where this can happen.
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Author: Jared Taylor
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