Woke Comes For Math

Image result for hidden figures

The three women pictured above were pretty good at math. They helped the space program do the calculations that got us to the moon. They were the subject of the film Hidden Figures, nominated for Best Picture the same year that La La Land Moonlight won. For those of you keeping score at home, that was a scant five years ago.

They were remarkable not only for their brains, but also for having overcome both racism and sexism in mid-century Tidewater Virginia. There was no suggestion that, at any point in their mathematical educations, the material was dumbed-down or reorganized for them because they were black or because they were women. There was no suggestion that it needed to be. Grading their school work on a curve would have cheapened their achievements; doing so with their professional work would quite possibly led to men dying in space.

Indeed, at Virginia’s physics and math departments, where I was an undergrad in the 1980s, we were relieved that the standard of truth and rigorous examination required by the physical sciences and by mathematical reasoning rendered them impervious to what was then becoming known as “political correctness.”

It would take the brains of 2020s education professionals to promote such an absurdity.

Pictured below is the layout of a course on “dismantling racism in mathematics instruction.” It is being promoted by the state of Oregon’s education department.

You will note that being expected to work on your own, to show your work, and to get the right answer are considered elements of “white supremacy culture.” Grades are racist. Addressing mistakes is considered bigoted.

None of this is true, of course. Math problems have a right answer, especially those problems students are likely to see in high school. Showing your work is how you prove you understand the concepts, and how you help the teacher identify where you’ve gotten off-track if you end up in the Sea of Cortez rather than the Sea of Tranquility. Students can help teach each other, but eventually each has to understand the material on his own. And for some students, grades can be a powerful incentive to hunker down and do the homework. If these aren’t universally, true, there’s no reason to think they have anything to do with race.

Some of these elements are just part of the merry-go-round of pedagogical debate, dressed up in woke clothing to give it the moral high ground in order to dissuade dissenters. It is considered racist to “prefer procedural fluency over conceptual knowledge.” I grew up in the 1970s and was subjected to this garbage, getting lots of partial credit for “getting he idea right” even when I was sloppy in the execution. Teachers were following a fad, not trying to correct for decades of racism in my almost-all-white elementary schools, but it still contributed mightily to poor attention to detail that I struggled for many years to correct.

The one elements that seems to have some merit – that English-language proficiency shouldn’t be confused with technical proficiency – is also completely disconnected from race. Bilingual education may be foolish, counterproductive, and ultimately ghettoizing, but since immigrants can be of any race, it’s not racist.

Lost on the people with doctorates who designed this nonsense is its own inherent racism, the idea that somehow poor kids non-white students are too stupid to get to the right answer and to show how they got there, or to get there on their own, or to progress from one skill to another. Far from helping these kids, it risks condemning them to a lifetime of mathematical illiteracy by adding to the obstacles they have to overcome.

Mrs. Johnson, Mrs. Jackson, and Mrs. Vaughn would probably have something to say about that.

No photo description available.
  1. No comments yet.

You must be logged in to post a comment.

  1. No trackbacks yet.