by Janet Levy
Across America, math teaching practices that were considered essential are suddenly being condemned as racist.
In George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, set in the superstate of Oceania, the government propagates the absurd equation 2 + 2 = 5. Through steady indoctrination, and under the ever-watchful Thought Police, the citizens accept it as an unquestionable truth. The equation symbolizes the extinction of free thought in repressive totalitarian societies: facts, truths and objective reality are subordinated to political will and twisted to serve the authoritarian goals of the Party and its leader, Big Brother.
Something similar is happening in many American schools. An eerie Orwellian shadow is being cast over math instruction. The focus is insidiously shifting from arithmetic, geometry, and algebra to critical race theory, ethnic studies, and intersectionality. Ridiculous as it may sound, an objective field of knowledge is being thrust into the realm of social experimentation. Students are being taught not how to think but what to think. Instead of developing critical thinking skills, today’s math classes stipulate that students hold particular views about the world and instruct them on how they must extinguish what is posited as “wrongthink.”
Across America, math teaching practices that were considered essential are suddenly being condemned as racist, requiring students to display the steps in solving a problem is now deemed white supremacist; teachers’ corrections, and even the concept of a correct answer, are considered suspect or undesirable; polite interaction, raising hands before commenting or asking questions, and maintaining order in the classroom are viewed as reinforcing paternalism and condemned as “power hoarding.”
This idiocy has swept, among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the fruit of the worst practices of monopolistic capitalism but now quick to align itself with left-liberal, pseudo-egalitarian causes. The foundation is providing more than $140 million to ‘A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction,’ an organization of 25 educational institutions that contend that math is synonymous with white supremacy and upholds “capitalist, imperialistic and racist” views. Pathway offers a five-part toolkit and videoconferences to make educators “reflect on their own biases” and commit to advance math “equity” by understanding that students of color use math differently than do white students.
In Oregon, the department of education is pushing Pathway’s course for teachers, which focuses less on math instruction and more on identity politics. The concept of math as being objective is challenged. Educators are encouraged to dispense with the idea of right and wrong answers and develop sensitivity toward the supposed harm and authoritarianism perpetuated by solving for the correct answer. In class, they must come up with two or more answers, no matter right or wrong. All this in the service of “deconstructing racism and dismantling white supremacy.”
This wholesale revamping of math instruction through a naked cultivation of guilt in those who are white or privileged is most unfortunate for the very minorities it seeks to empower. Students from minority groups, who score significantly lower than whites on standardized tests, need enhanced instruction and support, not a shifting of goalposts that does away with right answers.
The latest (2019) survey of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the Nation’s Report Card, indicates that, at the 4th grade level, compared to whites, blacks and Hispanics scored 10% and 7% lower respectively, while Asians scored 4.5% higher. At the 8th grade, blacks and Hispanics scored 11% and 8% lower than whites respectively, with Asians ahead of whites by 6%. And by the 12th grade, blacks and Hispanics scored 20% and 16% lower than whites respectively, while Asians were ahead of whites by 2%.
The rational remedy would be to work to improve math teaching material and methods so that the disadvantaged minorities learn better and score better. But the focus instead is on bringing down higher-achieving students (whether majority white or minority Asian) for the sake of a dubious equity. Rather than find ways to increase access to, and improve education, the emphasis is on rigging the system so that correct answers have no significance. This is clearly a disservice to all students and to education itself: the focus on oppression and victimhood undermines hard work and negates personal responsibility for subject mastery.
Math professor Alan Sokal debunked much of postmodern humbug in the humanities through his 1996 hoax and 1998 book Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science. Like Orwell before him, Sokal lambasted vague jargon that detracts from clear thinking. The new buzzword ‘intersectionality’ is the sort of claptrap Orwell and Sokal would ridicule. It purports to address all potential grievance groups a person may belong to. As an umbrella term for the legion of imagined injustices and barriers to learning -- race, gender, social class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability -- it awards credit for membership in more than one grievance group.
In the name of the ‘intersectionality’ of grievances real or imagined, a campaign against rationality is under way. One of its strategies is systematic guilt inducement. The idea is that whiteness and its institutions are oppressive and must be dismantled. And whites must be made to feel guilty about their skin color.
In a New York school, white parents were recently sent a “Whiteness” Manifesto with eight potential “white identities” and asked to disavow their whiteness by becoming “white traitors” and advocating “white abolition.”
In California, the model ethnic studies curriculum purports to educate students on oppression as it relates to patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, exploitative economic systems, ableism, ageism, anthropocentrism, xenophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, antiblackness, anti-indigeneity, Islamophobia and transphobia. It furthers absurd notions such as this one: Jewish students hide behind “conditional whiteness”, thereby gaining racial privilege by dropping ethnic markers if they have light skin. How can such a divisive curriculum foster learning? It can only produce resentment and induce shame. Indeed, what does it have to do with the educational process, academic achievement and the development of critical thinking skills?
The federal government, too, has gotten into this dangerous game. It’s sponsoring training for civil servants that exhorts whites to address their contribution to racism and “invest in race-based growth.” Diversity training is costing taxpayers millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, Black Lives Matter (BLM) has wormed itself into schools by establishing a BLM School National Week of Action in at least 20 major cities around the country. Its agenda, premised on oppression and white supremacy in schools, is incorporated in K-12 curriculums year-round. By portraying blacks as victims, not able architects of their future, it aims to “transform schools into sites of resistance to a system that devalues black lives.”
It seems that schools have abdicated the job of teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. They want to focus on critical race theory and foster a creeping anti-Americanism. Rather than develop a unifying American identity, these programs encourage divisiveness and stereotyping. They let the sciences, critical thinking, and other useful academic skills go untended, and hammer home the preposterous idea that failure or success is decided by race, class, gender, and sexuality. Personal effort does not matter, so success has to be redefined for certain groups while the rest are scapegoated for their achievements.
Is 2+2 = 4? Not anymore. The Thought Police of ‘intersectionality' will decide the numerous right answers.
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