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Monday, April 19, 2021

Two Plus Two Equals Five: 1984 or Math "Equity"?

Mark Charalambous

“Equality” is so sixties. Insufficient—and indeed, wrong—by the new calculus of “equity.” Equality of opportunity has failed to produce equal outcomes. The only possible explanation is… systemic racism. Hence, the replacement of equality—which implies nothing about equal outcomes—with equity, which does.

What might be unthinkable to past champions of civil rights such as MLK has now been normalized. Skin color as a valid discretionary criterion is promoted not only by the usual suspects in academe, but also by their comrades in Hollywood and mainstream media. Naysayers are “de-platformed”—i.e. silenced—by the woke oligarchs of social media whose control over the public square have made them the ultimate arbiters of reality.

And now, the “decolonization” of the liberal arts in academia breaches the once-sacred halls of mathematics.

For those with no idea what this is about, a movement is afoot across the country to transform education as we know it. A radical thought contagion, Critical Race Theory, has taken hold of the Brahmins of higher ed., those who determine the shape of education in your child’s classroom. Whites, we are told (no further derivative of national origin or ethnicity is required—color of skin is sufficient), wield an imperialist, white supremacist worldview which bulldozes over the timeworn fabric of other,  “oppressed” cultures, creating a “systemically racist” educational system in its own image.

A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction, a training guide for math teachers developed in California, seeks to redirect all facets of mathematics pedagogy through a transformation matrix of “dismantling racism in mathematical instruction.” Math teachers are instructed to “engage, reflect, plan and act” to dismantle white supremacy culture in math classrooms, and become “anti-racist” math teachers.

The introductory paragraph to the first of the five components in the “toolkit” (“Stride 1: Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction”) explains its purpose.

“The framework for deconstructing racism in mathematics offers essential characteristics of antiracist math educators and critical approaches to dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms by visibilizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture with respect to math.”

More edu-speak jargon follows:

“In order to embody antiracist math education, teachers must engage in critical praxis that interrogates the ways in which they perpetuate white supremacy culture in their own classrooms, and develop a plan toward antiracist math education to address issues of equity for Black, Latinx, and multilingual students.”

How does “white supremacy infiltrate math classrooms”? The toolkit includes these examples:

·         “Getting the ‘right’ answer”

You may have thought getting the right answer to a math problem was important… like, that was the whole idea? But you would be wrong:

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.”

·         Students are required to “show their work”

This tried-and-true method to determine a student’s mathematical reasoning ability (as well as to preclude cheating) is, we are told, evidence of white supremacy culture:

“Asking students to show their work … becomes a crutch for teachers seeking to understand what students are thinking and less of a tool for students in learning how to process… requiring students to show their work reinforces worship of the written word as well as paternalism.

·         “Addressing mistakes”

Even correcting errors comes under fire:

“Teachers often treat mistakes as problems by equating them with wrongness, rather than treating them [as] 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).”

·          “Teachers are teachers and students are students”

Recognizing the different roles teacher and student play in the learning process “reinforces the ideas of paternalism and powerhoarding. When students bring a different approach to doing math, teachers often get defensive and see it as a challenge to the power structures in the classroom.”

Instead, the training directs the teacher to “Learn to shift your position to a facilitator, rather than a knowledge giver, by having someone observe your classroom specifically to identify the way that power is distributed.”

That last instruction is ominously reminiscent of communist re-education camps where Red Guards preside over the indoctrination of the “bourgeoisie.”

This intent is further reinforced in the “Reflect” sections where teachers are required to fill in “Reflection Notes” in response to prompts such as: “In what ways have I incorporated antiracist practices into my classroom? How can I incorporate more antiracist practices into my classroom? Do I see myself as the holder of authority in my classroom? In what ways can this power imbalance affect students’ ability to learn math? How do I or can I share the classroom’s authority and autonomy with students?” and tellingly, “ _________________ will hold me accountable for this plan in the following ways:”

The teacher-training component of the training is explicitly addressed in the Stride 5 component, “Sustaining Equitable Practice.” The compliance directions read like an instructional manual for 1984’s Thought Police or something devised by L. Ron Hubbard.

* * *

The modern history of education in the U.S. has been the march of one pedagogic theory after another, usually purposed to address long-standing disparities in educational achievement by Blacks. The “self-esteem” fad lasted for decades before common sense finally set in. Next, the “multiple intelligences” and “learning styles” theories to explain embarrassing race-differentiated standardized test results. More recently we have the whimsical “flipping” the classroom. In algebra, there’s been movements to re-focus the introductory teaching through application problems first (not as the dreaded word problems that come at the end of the exercise set), rather than starting with the nuts-and-bolts teaching of the grammar of algebra. More often than not such “new” reforms revert back to the previous mode once the novelty has worn off or the grant has run out, and enough time has elapsed. There's a good reason why the college campus has become the national joke that half the country still doesn't get.

Despite their intent, these “reforms” usually end up just further dumbing-down educational standards. (If you don’t believe this, compare primary and secondary school math tests over the last 150 years or so.) But the equity movement’s anti-racist math is far more destructive. None of the previous reform movements specifically targeted one segment of the population, singling them out as villains directly responsible for the failures of others. That many of the people promoting the demonization of “whiteness” are themselves self-othering Whites does nothing to diminish its malignancy.

* * *

Critical Race Theory’s infiltration into the curricula requires discrimination. By race. Yes, by that crudest of measuring rods: color of skin. Consider Columbia U.’s six different identity-dependent graduation ceremonies this year. This is not unique. The segregation by race of graduation commencements, dormitories, freshmen orientations and more is becoming the new normal on campuses across the nation. Apply large angular momentum to the grave of MLK.

This new zeitgeist is some unholy paradoxical combination of diversity-worship with pure racial scapegoating. The woke Left has, indeed, made everything “all about race.” The guiding light of anti-racist teaching is Ibram X. Kendi, a celebrated author and academician who has made a nifty business out of it and is referenced throughout Pathway. He believes literally everything is racist. According to Kendi’s celebrated best-seller, How to Be an Anti-Racist, “there is no such thing as a not-racist idea, only racist ideas and antiracist ideas.” Thoughts inform ideas, and in the realm of government, ideas inform policies. “Every policy in every institution in every community in every nation is producing or sustaining either racial inequity or equity,” he claims.

Kendi’s hatred of whites is so deep he confesses to once believing they were aliens. His totalitarian worldview presents a terrifying Stalinist vision of a future for the U.S. where a Department of Anti-Racism promulgated by an anti-racist amendment to the Constitution, “comprised of formally trained experts on racism and no political appointees,” would operate impervious to any electoral oversight. It would be responsible for “preclearing all local, state and federal public policies to ensure they won’t yield racial inequity,” further, to “monitor those policies, investigate private racist policies when racial inequity surfaces, and monitor public officials for expressions of racist ideas… empowered with disciplinary tools to wield over and against policymakers and public officials who do not voluntarily change their racist policy and ideas.”

Kendi proudly admits that affirmative action is inherently discriminatory—and justified: “racial discrimination is not inherently racist.” How’s this for Orwellian ‘doublespeak’: “The defining question is whether the discrimination is creating equity or inequity. If discrimination is creating equity, then it is antiracist. If discrimination is creating inequity, then it is racist. . . The only remedy to racist discrimination is antiracist discrimination. The only remedy to past discrimination is present discrimination. The only remedy to present discrimination is future discrimination.”

Orwell’s 1984 redux:

“Who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present, controls the past.”

Kendi is a professor at Boston University, a #1 New York Times best-selling author and celebrated as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2020. Sadly, what he is selling, Americans are clearly buying.

These racial-equity-in-education programs are in the works across the country. Here in Massachusetts, Professional Development Institute on Racial Equity in Pedagogy and Practice is currently in development by the Department of Higher Ed and UMass-Boston.

The reflexive property of mathematics holds that a thing is equal to itself. Ibram Kendi is a racist. A Pathway to Equitable Mathematics Instruction is racist; as are any efforts to deconstruct and “de-colonize” “white supremacist mathematics.” Stop it now.

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