When I first heard about Seattle Public Schools’ proposed “K-12 Math Ethnic Studies Framework” this afternoon, I was curious if the actual document lived up to the freak-out among conservative observers. Seattle, after all, is where many STEM-based corporations are headquartered. (For now, anyway – several tech companies already have their foot out the door, and not simply over taxes.) How did a city where math is responsible for substantially all of governments’ tax receipts end up with school districts that want to destroy math education? It makes no sense whatsoever. But then again, New York City is talking about scrapping gifted and talented education because it is racist, so it’s not like Seattle is the first blue municipality to consider cranking out ignorant children a political priority. (Heck, New York City put it into law that schools cannot reject a student for a diploma on the basis of having never attended class. No kidding. You no longer need to attend school to get a diploma from a public high school in NYC. The schools literally have no academic standards.)
From what I can tell, most observers have only read the article in Reason magazine, which simply paraphrases an article in Education Week. Both of these articles understate the extreme positions in Seattle’s proposal. I think most people – regardless of political persuasion – would lose their minds if they saw the proposal documents for how Seattle Public Schools might transform math education.
The proposal divides math instruction into four categories that math instructors need to address in the classroom: (1) origins, identity, and agency; (2) power and oppression; (3) history of resistance and liberation; and (4) reflection and action. Yes, this is their framework for teaching math.
Under the “origins, identity, and agency” category, the authors suggest that instructors address “the ways in which we view ourselves as mathematicians” and emphasize that mathematical theory is “rooted in the ancient histories of people and empires of color.”
The authors urge math teachers to “create counter narratives about the origins of mathematical knowledge” and to “see the value in making mistakes both as individuals and as a community.” Got that? It’s no longer enough that schools pass students who cannot demonstrate a proficiency in subject-matter through the system. The schools need to praise students for failing.
The document elaborates: “How important is it to be Right? What is Right? Says Who?”
I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, I was not taught to talk about my feelings about math or to see the answers according to some political rubric of authority. I was taught *gasp* proofs. Ditto for symbolic logic.
Under the “power and oppression” category, the authors … well… I’ll just let them speak for themselves:
Power and oppression, as defined by ethnic studies, are the ways in which individuals and groups define mathematical knowledge so as to see “Western” mathematics as the only legitimate expression of mathematical identity and intelligence. This definition of legitimacy is then used to disenfranchise people and communities of color. This erases the historical contributions of people and communities of color.
Thus, math instructors need to work into their curriculum a discussion of “the ways in which ancient mathematical knowledge has been appropriated by Western culture” and “identify how math has been and continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color.” As an auxiliary, they recommend teaching about how technology and standardized testing are connected to mathematics as a tool of oppression.
But they don’t stop there. They also recommend that math teachers “explain how math has been used to exploit natural resources” (as if forests have been wronged by algebra) and “explain how math dictates economic oppression.” (For example, the fact that you do not understand how your mortgage works because you attended Seattle Public Schools puts you at an unfair intellectual disadvantage to the people at the bank who attended real schools.)
The authors then ask (I’m not even halfway through the document, hang in there) “who holds power in a mathematical classroom? Is there a place for power and authority in the math classroom? Who gets to say if an answer is right? What is the process for verifying the truth? Who is Smart? Who is not Smart?”
They recommend math teachers ask their students to name oppressive mathematical practices in their experience, “how data-driven processes prevent liberation,” and “how math can help us understand the impact of economic conditions and systems that contribute to poverty and slave labor.”
Students should be asked what is legitimate as math and what fears they have about math. Then they should ponder who in society has worked to make them fearful of math and what ulterior motives someone might have in doing so.
Next up is the “history of resistance and liberation” category, which suggests teachers cover “individuals and organizations that have reclaimed mathematical identity and agency” and how we can “change mathematics from individualistic to collectivist thinking.”
The last category, “reflection and action,” suggests that teachers encourage their students to take the gospel of the math ethnic studies framework to their communities so they can understand how math is fundamentally racist and how it has been used to oppress them all along.
The sick thing about all of this is that people who push for this kind of content in classrooms are hurting minority children themselves. Every minute of every day that is spent on nonsense like this is instructional time and instructional resources that are not teaching the kids useful skills that they absolutely must have to compete in a modern economy. Not to mention the fact that the teachers are giving kids the impression that talking this way will do them any service in the real world. Crikey.