- A new project called A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction born from the racial justice movement in America is underway.
- The argument alleged is that there is a culture of white supremacy that prevails in our classrooms.
- If we take out the racial justice reasoning proposed and look at it objectively, there is a different alternative. The United States of America teaches math differently than other countries.
A new project born from the racial justice movement in America is underway. A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction is a project developed by many collaborators ranging from teachers, instructional coaches, researchers, professional development providers, and curriculum writers.
There are over 25 organizations that are dedicated partners, such as Education Trust-West, Los Angeles County Office of Education, UnboundEd, Just Equations, and the Association of California School Administrators. It is worthy to note they give special thanks to the Bill and Melinda Gate Foundation for their “generous financial support” of the project.
In the name of racial justice, these organizations aim to change the way teachers engage in teaching. Specifically in the math classrooms of grades 6-8 targeting the young minds of Black, Latinx, and Multilingual students.
What Does Racial Justice have to do with Math?
In what the project calls Stride 1 (basically the first manual in a 5-step toolkit volume) titled, Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction, we find some meat of what this is all about. The purpose being, “This tool provides teachers an opportunity to examine their actions, beliefs, and values around teaching mathematics.” It claims to be “The framework for deconstructing racism in mathematics .” While going on to suggest how to use this tool, “While primarily for math educators, this text advocates for a collective approach to dismantling white supremacy.”
The argument alleged is that there is a culture of white supremacy that prevails in our classrooms. This term has been used a lot over the last four years with many different implications. Therefore it is essential to look at how the Equitable Math defines this term from their glossary:
“White supremacy is a historically based, institutionally perpetuated system of exploitation and oppression of continents, nations and peoples of color by white peoples and nations of the European continent; for the purpose of maintaining and defending a system of wealth, power and privilege.”
Thus, they offer that “critical approaches to dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms by visualizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture (Jones and Okun 2001; dismantling Racism 2016) with respect to math.”
The rest of the document outlines various beliefs and modes of thinking in the realm of teaching that supports their argument. The material relies heavily upon another paper published in 2016 entitled Dismantling Racism.
A Look Under the Hood, Two Alleged Rationales
Taking a look at two of the rationale behind why our classrooms are racist, especially when it comes to teaching math. As Equitable Math implicates, “White supremacy culture infiltrates math classrooms in everyday teacher actions.” Along with the assertion bound with certain beliefs, “they perpetuate educational harm on Black, Latinx, and multilingual students, denying them full access to the world of mathematics.”
First, found on page 66, “The focus is on getting the “right” answer.” Equitable Math asserts that “The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false,” and “Up-holding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict.”
Part of the remedy for this is to “Come up with at least two answers that might solve this problem.” Remember, we are talking about math that they assert is not objective, which means that math is a human construct, not something inherently discoverable in creation (the universe, nature, the sciences, etc.). Equipped with this disposition of thinking, they can make the extreme argument that 2+2=5.
Another area white supremacy culture reveals itself is found on page 55 when “Students are required to “show their work.” The idea being math teachers need to see the student’s work to know what students are thinking, “but that centers the teacher’s need to understand rather than student learning” it goes on to say.
This shifts the blame onto the teacher rather than acknowledging the importance of writing out your math equations. Their reasoning being, “It becomes a crutch for teachers seeking to understand what students are thinking and less of a tool for students in learning how to process.”
They do not explain their conclusion, which does not seem to connect with their previous reasoning. The authors conclude, “Thus, requiring students to show their work reinforces worship of the written word as well as paternalism.”
Logically as a whole, it is hard to see what this has to do with discrimination of any kind. The authors suggest practices such as answering mathematical problems with another person without using words or numbers. Another suggestion is to have students create TikTok videos, silent films, or cartoons about math.
Alternative Ideas of Decline in Math Education
As much work has been inserted into the project, various opinions and studies have been made on declining growth in education. As much as our federal government has intervened to control public education, there has been little change if not worsening results.
Common Core, the education reform from a decade ago, was powerful because it didn’t only change what students would learn but also how they would learn. That is a significant component of the project Equitable Math. It seeks to change how students are taught fundamentally.
Only this time, it is through the narrow lens of racial justice. As evidenced by Common Core’s failure, this new endeavor has taken no lessons from the past. With seemingly more confusing practices than Common Core, what chance does this have to succeed if the goal is to raise education levels?
If we take out the racial justice reasoning proposed and look at it objectively, there is a different alternative. The United States of America teaches math differently than other countries. Our country’s recipe is to teach Algebra I in 9th grade, Geometry in 10th grade, and then return to Algebra II in the 11th grade.
Other countries use an approach called Integrated Math I, II, & III. This approach teaches concepts from algebra, geometry, probability, statistics, and data science altogether.
This was an approach tested in Georgia back in 2005 that floundered as “integrated math never won over teachers, students or their parents. In a 2014 survey, 84 percent of Georgia teachers surveyed said they were not in favor of the integrated model and wanted to return to the more “traditional” approach.”
Perhaps it would behoove our great country to set up the necessary infrastructure for an Integrated Math approach. Instead of wasting billions of dollars as we did on Common Core. We are chasing after alleged racial justice reforms that seek to change math itself fundamentally. The better path may be Integrated Math, as its success rates are much higher in how students are educated.
Why This Matters
Equitable Math and what it represents is a dangerous path to go down in our country. There needs to be a reasonable discourse in the public forum concerning how we relate to one another. But to go so far as to say how we are teaching math is racial prejudice is outrageous.
The proposed doctrines outlined by Equitable Math should concern any parent of any child. Math is the most neutral subject in existence. It does not discriminate; it does not take sides; it does not waver in allegiances or retelling. To go so far as to say math is not objective is absurd.
No one can change 2+2=4 no more than anyone can say that grass is not green anymore. Yet this is what this project opens the door to—an authoritarian state that rejects all reason and logic to propose ideas that 2+2=5.
Political agendas have no place dictating the way our children and generations are educated. Under this suggested new alternative to teaching, children learning will have no hope to hold jobs as doctors, engineers, technicians of various kinds, financial analysts, and so forth. Politicizing education will further keep our children behind, and that is the greatest tragedy.
Anyone can learn math. Many people have different ways of learning and absorbing the subject matter. To say math is racist will only damage our bright young minds and our country further. According to PISA 2018 worldwide ranking, the U.S. ranked 37 out of 78 countries in math scores. China ranked first. How can the U.S. compete globally in math if children are taught a different version of math than the rest of the world?
We need to reject this attempt to politicize education and have a meaningful discourse about education that leads to results. The issues of racial justice are a separate matter entirely. Critical thinking, logic, and reasoning are vital for every individual to make progress and truly reform education and culture.
We ought never forget the quote of G.K. Chesterton:
“We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which furious party cries will be raised against anybody who says that cows have horns, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening mob with the news that grass is green.”
Keefer is passionate about America and the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. His writings focus on the intersectionality of faith and culture.