I’ve previously commented on Critical Race Theory and its potential impact on education by emphasizing the examination of everything through the prism of racial conflict. The conclusion must be that our Founders and history books “got it all wrong.” That’s a losing premise. I assumed this theory applied almost exclusively to history and literature. I naively assumed mathematics wasn’t a target of CRT.
Professor Nancy Pearcy, with Houston Baptist University, expressed concerns about this “new math” in “Does mathematics equal western imperialism?” She reported on a radical theory that “2+2 equaling four is cultural,” a product of “Western imperialism and colonialism.” She quotes University of Illinois Professor Rochelle Gutierrez who declares that “algebra and geometry perpetuate white privilege because the textbook version of math history is Eurocentric.”
Initially, I was unmoved because I dismissed those ideas as products of outliers in math education. I quickly became concerned upon learning that math teachers in Oregon are trained to accept the conclusion that “white supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer.”
Oregon partnered with California’s San Mateo County to conduct “ethnomathematics” training to aid in “dismantling racism in mathematics.” Daily Signal columnist Jarrett Stepman reported these systems were conducting a course labeled, “Pathway to Math Equity Micro Course.” This training “helps educators learn key tools for engagement, develop strategies to improve equitable outcomes for Black, Latinx, and multilingual students.”
But how does white supremacy become the culprit? Investigating references in Stepman’s article, I discovered that when students are required to “show their work” while solving math problems, it’s white supremacy at work. Teaching materials explain that this requirement reinforces “worship of the written word as well as paternalism.”
Other instructional materials direct teachers to “identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views.” A course “toolkit” insists “the concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false. ... Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuates objectivity as well as fear of open conflict.” These negative references to “objectivity” remind me of a short-lived exhibit at the Smithsonian Museum of African American History. The exhibit identified “objectivity” as one of several attributes of whiteness that promote white supremacy.
It occurred to me that competence in mathematics has traditionally been considered an individual talent, like golf. Individuals stand alone for evaluation, rather than collectively, as for a football team. In contrast, this “new math” reflects collectivist thinking. “Lowest common denominator thinking” more accurately describes this technique. Collectivism is consistent with CRT’s habit of replacing individual identity with group identity. It seems clear that this lowers the standards for math education.
Lawrence M. Ludlow nails this collectivist concept by asserting that unlike individuals, “groups do not suffer, bleed, undergo cancel culture and censorship, or die a painful death.” His intriguing thoughts appeared in an American Thinker article, “Architecture Goes Woke.” This collectivist mind-set trivializes the potential impact of an educational discipline that is best evaluated on an individual student, not collective, basis. Think about the undesirable impact that attitude could have on policy making.
An apologist for the left might explain that we shouldn’t get too worried about this controversial “new math.” After all, it’s only a small minority of educators proposing these ideas – a small, lonesome voice. But Oregon isn’t a small voice. I found numerous other examples of this training being conducted. One interesting example is the “Seattle Public Schools, K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework (20.08.2019).”
Does trivializing the inherent nature and important applications of mathematics cripple hopes to land on the moon, Mars, or Venus – or to build a canal, computer, or power grid? Does this cheapen accounting and engineering careers, or confuse the exchange of money for products and services? Consider brain surgery – is “approximate” good enough?
How can we hope to advance the possibilities for Black students if we emphasize the theory that getting the right answer isn’t important for advancement and success? We shouldn’t misguide students. If we don’t oppose these radical ideas, America will soon become yesterday’s news.
Steve Bakke is a Courier subscriber living in Fort Myers, Fla. He is a retired CPA and commercial finance executive.