Math oppressed me something terrible when I was in high school.
But now public school educators in Seattle are accusing math of a sort of oppression of which I never dreampt when I was struggling with its abstractions back in the day. Robby Soave of Reason explains:
Math is a deeply frustrating subject for many elementary and high school students. But Seattle public schools are gearing up to accuse math of a litany of more serious crimes: imperialism, dehumanization, and oppression of marginalized persons.
The district has proposed a new social justice-infused curriculum that would focus on "power and oppression" and "history of resistance and liberation" within the field of mathematics. The curriculum isn't mandatory, but provides a resource for teachers who want to introduce ethnic studies into the classroom vis a vis math.
Education Week elaborates:
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.
But will they learn to add and subtract?
What about abstract thinking?
Knowledge can be used for good or for ill, but this curriculum seeks to replace the acquisition of knowledge with acquisition of pseudo-knowledge, made-up history and intellectual pablum. It will actually deprive students of the tools of mathematics. Instead of fostering thinking, it will foster ignorant prejudice.
Math is an abstract subject, not a warm bath of identity politics. But identity will underlie this new approach if it is adopted:
“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.
I read an article this week (wish I could find it) saying that college graduates are so ill-educated that the majority are not able to read and compare the points made in two conflicting newspaper editorials. No wonder. With trendy educators destroying education, reasoning itself is under attack.
This should be seen for what it is: an attack on the teaching of mathematics.
If this curriculum is widely adopted, I won’t be the only one reduced to counting on my fingers.