Have you ever considered a numerical concept and then suspected it was judging you by your color?
If so, USA Today has an article for you.
A piece published Tuesday asks, “Is math education racist?”
“Debate rages,” it claims, “over changes to how (the) U.S. teaches the subject.”
The current title is a tweak: As relayed by Fox News, the original headline posed more profoundly, “Is math racist?”
We're living in odd times — the best I can tell, if any group by any metric scores any worse than another, it's assumed victimization is afoot.
And culture's current Occam's razor tells us the most racist explanation is usually the best.
Or perhaps I'm completely confused.
Either way, the write-up wants to know — what's causing racial disparities in math performance?
The story mentions Florida algebra teacher Nadine Ebri, who switched her mostly-black students to an educational approach “emphasizing real-world problems and collaboration” and involving dancing, drawing, and even rap.
Activities are sculpted around their hobbies and interests: anime, gaming, Minecraft. Problem-solving is a team sport, rather than an individual sprint to the right answer.
The students' 2020-21 scores on the state's math exam improved — though it's not made clear how much — “even with 1 in 3 learning from home.”
But Nadine's approach isn't so monumental. Others have more substantial modification in mind:
[B]older recommendations to make math more inclusive are blowing up the world of mathematics education. Schools are collapsing math “tracks” to put kids of all abilities in the same classes and adding data science courses that carry the same prestige as calculus, long seen as a gateway to a career in STEM fields – and elite colleges.
And how much social justice should be injected into the equation?
Another heated issue: the extent to which math education should include real-world problems involving racial and social inequities.
“Fairly or not” the outlet laments, “that debate has landed in the murky soup of ‘Critical Race Theory‘ digressions.”
Moreover, teachers and doers are at odds:
The changes have pitted mathematicians and math educators against each other and sparked criticism from affluent parents upset by the elimination of gifted tracks. They've caused upheaval in one state, California, as professors, parents and teachers spar over proposed changes to the state's K-12 math framework.
Stanford University Professor Jo Boaler — someone “at the forefront of the changes” — contends standards are staying the same:
“We're not changing or lowering the standards. We're outlining how inequitable the teaching of math is right now.”
Some of Jo's colleagues would disagree: More than 600 college instructors have implored K-12 classes to stop dumbing down math.
“Advancing information technology and American economic competitiveness” is at stake, the group's petition points out.
California State University Professor Wayne Bishop seconds the motion.
“The result is that more people are admitted to college but fewer are prepared for a hard science or engineering college regimen,” he tells USA Today.
So how are kids faring?
Many low-income students and kids of color aren't doing well in math and haven't for a long time, national test scores show. That translates to big divides later in lucrative STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math – where 70% of workers are white and 65% are male, according to a survey by the American Enterprise Institute.
The pandemic has only made things worse. A new national report shows third-grade students' math scores dropped significantly during the pandemic. Only 17% of third-graders at majority white schools performed on grade level in math this fall; just 4% of students attending majority Black schools did the same, according to the report by Curriculum Associates.
On top of that, some races purportedly “feel unwelcome”:
— USA TODAY Opinion (@usatodayopinion) July 28, 2020
In response, West Coast warriors are fighting inequity:
Proponents of…changes in California (via a system called Mathematics Framework)…have encouraged working equity discussions into math class.
We value the role that mathematics can play in highlighting and ultimately addressing social injustice and reject the idea that mathematics should be removed from discussions of inequality. … We…mathematicians, scientists, statisticians, educators, advisory groups, and community members, fully support and respect the aims of…Mathematics Framework, its use of educational research to guide decision making, and its significant focus on social justice. … We reject both…opposition to the critical role of social justice in elevating mathematics learning for all students, and [a previous letter criticizing Mathematics Framework's] rejection of the contributions of marginalized people in mathematics.
So are we poised for a brighter mathematical future?
If I had to guess, I'd say no.
Excellence catalyzed by difficulty doesn't look to any longer be our MO.
Social justice cases in point:
Where math is concerned, at least kids won't have to tally their sperm count:
Vermont Makes History, Starts Handing Out Condoms to 12-Year-Olds
— RedState (@RedState) November 13, 2021
As for USA Today's original question, I'd like to give it a go:
Is math racist?
In fact, math has no idea the color of anyone's skin, as it has no eyes.
Or does it?
After all — in a KKK kind of way, these days, most anything is poised to pounce:
Colorado University Hosts Teacher Training to Fight the 'White Supremacy' of 'Productivity' https://t.co/8WSl5m8bWW
— RedState (@RedState) September 5, 2021
Maybe math isn't necessary: In our new and dangerous world, regarding a refuge from racism, it seems you can't count on anything.