I guess I’ll have to post twice on a race-related topic today, though I’m trying to avoid too much of this kind of stuff. Yet people keep sending me links to overly Woke initiatives, and this one was too good to pass up. It’s just one example of how every academic subject is being racialized these days. It’s certainly happening to evolutionary biology, but you’d think that math would be immune to identity politics.
Think again. The Seattle Public School system is planning an initiative that will fuse math education with Critical Race Theory from kindergarten through high school, effectively turning math class into Ethnic Studies class. (This initiative apparently comes from a branch of scholarship called “ethnomathematics.”) If you think I’m exaggerating, have a look at the official math standards framework (below) and the two articles below that.
The new curriculum;
The first piece is from Education Week, and the second from the right-wing site Reason.com. I’ll quote from both, but mainly from the first one, and you can read them by clicking on the screenshots.
From the first article:
The Seattle school district is planning to infuse all K-12 math classes with ethnic-studies questions that encourage students to explore how math has been “appropriated” by Western culture and used in systems of power and oppression, a controversial move that puts the district at the forefront of a movement to “rehumanize” math.
The district’s proposed framework outlines strands of discussion that teachers should incorporate into their classes. One leads students into exploring math’s roots “in the ancient histories of people and empires of color.” Another asks how math and science have been used to oppress and marginalize people of color, and who holds power in a math classroom.
Another theme focuses on resistance and liberation, encouraging students to recognize the mathematical practices and contributions of their own communities, and looking at how math has been used to free people from oppression.
Seattle’s proposals land as schools all over the country are discussing the role ethnic studies should play in their curricula. In most places, if schools offer ethnic studies at all, it’s usually in a stand-alone course in high school. But increasingly, schools and districts are starting to sprinkle ethnic studies across the K-12 spectrum. Seattle is taking a highly unusual approach by weaving the field’s multicultural and political questions not just through all grade levels, but into all subjects.
Yes, that’s right: all subjects. You can’t be free from Critical Theory in any class: art, music, math, physics, and so on. And it’s clear that it is Critical Theory that is being taught if you read the standards at the first link and what the educators say about the program in the article:
“Seattle is definitely on the forefront with this,” said Robert Q. Berry III, the president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. “What they’re doing follows the line of work we hope we can move forward as we think about the history of math and who contributes to that, and also about deepening students’ connection with identity and agency.”
. . . More recently, some scholars, most prominently Rochelle Gutiérrez at the University of Illinois-Urbana/Champaign, have begun advocating for a “rehumanizing” of mathematics, which places dynamics such as race and oppression at the center of conversations about math and culture.
That is, the class will learn that math has been a tool of the oppressor (i.e., white people) against the oppressed (i.e., people of color). And although the initiative is supposed to recruit more minority students into studying math, or at least interest them in math, there’s a contradiction, for the program replaces math education with cultural education. And by so doing, it not only reduces the stuff available to learn in math, but also tries to eliminate the very idea that minority students aren’t doing that well in math:
Contrast this (both from the Education Week article):
When too many black and Latino students see no place for themselves in math and science, Castro-Gill said, it’s important to be explicit about how their own cultures contribute to math and how they can use it to make their communities, and the world, better.
“Math education has been very focused on access and closing the achievement gap, around grit and growth mindset. Those ideas are centered around individuals, and ways of thinking they need to adopt. We haven’t focused enough on identity or systems of power,” Gutiérrez said.
“Students should be able to see themselves in the curriculum, recognize math as a tool for making their lives better, and question what math is, and the purpose of math,” she said.
See yourself in the curriculum? That isn’t on for math. But notice that they are subtly replacing achievement in math (that is, learning the stuff) with “seeing yourself in the curriculum.” “Closing the achievement gap”, well, that is overrated.
Reason.com‘s Robby Soave excerpts from the standards:
But having read over the proposed framework, I have to say that it does seem fairly terrible. It’s chock full of social justice jargon that sounds smart but is actually vapid. What does it mean to decode mathematical “beauty” or “identify how the development of mathematics has been erased from learning in school?” (Has it been erased? That seems like a problem for history class.) The guidance says it will “re-humanize mathematics through experiential learning” and facilitate learning “independently and interdependently.” That’s a fancy way of saying almost nothing at all.
The guidance also includes some extremely political, simplistic talking points that might be popular among activist academics but are in reality somewhat dubious. This is verbatim from the proposal: Students will be able to “identify the inherent inequities of the standardized testing system used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color,” “explain how math has been used to exploit natural resources,” and “explain how math dictates economic oppression.” Each of these statements are debatable, but they are not being presented as such. It would be one thing to hold a class discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of standardized testing, but what’s happening here is that students are being trained to reject standardized testing due to its “inherent inequity,” which is asserted as some kind of proven fact.
Say what you will about Reason.com, the assertions in the second paragraph are accurate (I’ve checked).
But I’ve said enough. This initiative is ludicrous, and is explicitly designed to propagandize students with Critical Theory beginning in kindergarten.
What’s sad is that some educators actually think this is a good idea. And perhaps people really don’t care how much math people learn, and but want to replace learning math with learning about systems of oppression. But I don’t think that’s what parents want.
Surely math education can be improved. As Talking Barbie says, “Math is HARD”, and ways to get kids to learn math can always be scrutinized and presumably improved. You may not like math, for it’s one of those subjects that many people hate, but you need to be exposed to it, both for practical reasons and because it’s one of the great achievements of the human mind.
So here are two questions that the educators should answer, but haven’t:
1.) Does this kind of education actually teach kids more math than the standard methods? Where are the relevant data? Or don’t people care if the answer to this question is “no”?
2.) Do kids do better when they see their own ethnic group infused into the curriculum? (This is sort of a restatement of question #1.)
If the answer to both questions is “yes”, I’m still not completely down with this, because while it may teach more math—something I highly doubt given that math learning is replaced with Critical Theory—it still propagandizes students with a woke ideology beginning in kindergarten. Increasingly, and beginning at younger and younger ages, students are being told what to think about politics.
As a Jesuit member of the Church of Right Thinking might say, “Give me the math student for the first twelve years, and I’ll give you the Woke Adult.”