Friday, May 19, 2017

"New ‘Social Justice’ Math Class Teaches Kids That Math Is Evil, Dehumanizing"

Via Twitter:  Millions of K-12 students across the country believe that mathematics is a sadistic discipline—(I should know, I was one of them)—but a new "social justice" training module aims to persuade teachers that maybe the kids are on to something.

The course was designed by Teach for America and is offered through EdX, according to Campus Reform. It presupposes that math could be made more interesting for students if it was infused with socially relevant themes. That's not a terrible assumption—maybe young people would like math better if it was being taught in a language they understood. (If Olivia eats 10 pieces of avocado toast every day, how long will it be until she can afford to move out of her parent's house? That sort of thing.)

But Teach for America thinks that language is "social justice," and has designed a course that makes some startling claims about math.

"In western mathematics, our ways of knowing include formalized reasoning or proof, decontextualization, and algorithmic thinking, leaving little room for those having non-western mathematical skills and thinking processes," the training course claims.

It continues:
"Mathematical ethics recognizes that, for centuries, mathematics has been used as a dehumanizing tool… mathematics formulae also differentiate between the classifications of a war or a genocide and have been used to trick indigenous peoples out of land and property."
Math is such a basic building block that one can cherry-pick hundreds of examples of it being misapplied for nefarious ends—but that's not really math's fault. Math lacks—to borrow a social justice term—agency.

I'm open to the idea that math—particularly advanced math—is over-valued as a K-12 subject. There's a good argument to be made that high schoolers should be taking less Algebra II and reading more Shakespeare. But if we're going to teach math, I'm not sure we should be teaching that it's mostly just this bad thing Western countries used to subjugate indigenous peoples, as if that's the main thing you need to know about math.

9 comments:

Leland said...

That should help push more Americans into choosing STEM careers!

Certainly means I'll have less competition and better job security for another 20 years or more.

Amartel said...

"I'm open to the idea that math—particularly advanced math—is over-valued as a K-12 subject."

I'm not. Math teaches you to think, to work through and solve problems. There's no agenda. This is a key life skill. It does not matter whether or not in real life you need to know how to solve for x. In real life, you need to know how to think and solve problems. It's like they openly do not want children to learn how to think and solve problems. And while I don't believe there's any need to cut back on Shakespeare, which also teaches you how to think, they way they teach it probably does not so I wouldn't prioritize the literature over the math.

Rabel said...

Check out the course reviews at the bottom.

edutcher said...

You can't finesse math. no multiple choice, no essays about how you feel, as one of my profs put it.

It's right or it's wrong. It forces you to excel or, at least, achieve a standard.

And what Amartel said (very well, too BTW), especially the part about "teaches you how to think".

As opposed to what to think.

Leland said...

I think Base 2 is an offensive system, and ought to be kept out of K-12.

edutcher said...

You must be joking.

I was taught binary (they called it the new math back then) in II Form, what the backward call 8th grade.

Not hard, and I even enjoyed it.

Leland said...

01010111 01100001 01111001 00100000 01110100 01101111 00100000 01101101 01101001 01110011 01110011 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01101010 01101111 01101011 01100101 00101100 00100000 01000011 01101100 01101001 01100110 01100110 00101110

AJ Lynch said...

How much federal money goes to Teach for America? A lot I bet. Get rid of it.

Cynicus said...

Best math lesson for anyone is Learn math, so no one screws you over. Also, don't invest in lottery tickets.