Seattle Public Schools thinks math is racist and oppressive

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.

Here they are.

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.

North Florida judge allowed a potential school shooter to go free by massaging the definition of “transmission”

When we first started homeschooling our daughter, safety was not the biggest consideration. We were mainly concerned that a traditional school would not be sufficiently challenging for her academically and intellectually. But safety is definitely one of our biggest concerns now.

Just following news stories these days, it is shocking how many school districts and other authorities deliberately conceal security risks from parents and the students themselves or outright enable troubled students.

Yesterday, I read a local article about a child at an elementary school here – the school our daughter would be attending right now if we sent her to public school, in fact – who had been arrested for bringing drugs to school. The article noted that the child already had a criminal record, and was on FELONY probation. Imagine being on felony probation in elementary school. Imagine having your child at a school where kids on the playground already had serious criminal records. And school officials said nothing to parents about it so they could warn their children.

By far the worst story I have read lately is about Baker County Public Schools in the Jacksonville area. A high school student had produced several graphic and highly technical plans to murder police officers, staff, and students at his school. He had calculated the length of time it would take for officers to reach his school and how long it would take them to make it into the school and stop his massacre. He tried to quantify which campus locations would allow him to slaughter the most people.

Another student learned about his plans and did exactly what authorities told them to do: he told a teacher. The school worked with police to charge the student, only to have Circuit Judge Gloria Walker of the 8th circuit (recently elected; she used to work for a legal aid nonprofit for low-income families in North Florida) dismiss the charges against the student and send him home free, with no accountability whatsoever. Her argument was that authorities could not prove that the student “transmitted” his plans. Because he showed his plans to another student in person and did not say, make a random threat on Facebook Live, he could not be considered a legitimate threat under the law.

How can any parent of a child at that school continue to put their kids on a school bus after that? I know I couldn’t.

Here is the full account from local news sources:

The student wrote he wanted to “kill officers and then the gate keeper — then go one by one” and that he would have nine minutes to gun down as many people as possible, considering the distance between the sheriff’s office and the school, according to Maj. Randy Crews of the Baker County Sheriff’s Office.

In a composition notebook, the student also wrote “kill the first responders first,” and “there will most likely be chaos. You kill as much as you can before the other students/teachers notice,” according to documents obtained by the News4Jax I-TEAM.

But after the student was arrested, a judge dismissed the case saying prosecutors did not prove the threat was “transmitted” under state law, Crews told the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission on Tuesday.

Crews told the commission, which was created after last year’s mass shooting that killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, that state law needs to be clarified to allow the prosecution of potentially dangerous juveniles, like the Baker County student.

“I am not a lawyer, but I want to make you aware of this situation,” Crews said. “If these judges make these rulings, we are moving backwards.”

The juvenile was not named during Tuesday’s commission meeting, but commission Chairman Bob Gualtieri later identified the judge as Circuit Judge Gloria Walker of the 8th Judicial Circuit, which is made up of Baker, Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy and Union counties.

Under state law, people commit second-degree felonies if they write and send threats to kill or do bodily injury to “the person to whom such letter or communication is sent” or “to any member of the family of the person to whom such letter or communication is sent.”

Crews argued the student’s case shouldn’t have been dismissed because the threats in the notebook were unearthed after the student showed them to a classmate, who then reported it to a teacher.

Crews told News4Jax on Tuesday the sheriff’s office believes the law, Florida statue 836.10, clearly applies to the student when it states that “any person who makes, posts, or transmits a threat in a writing.”

“Prosecution plead with the judge about the case law, about the case, about the interpretation of the law and quite frankly the judge disagreed and dismissed the case,” Crews told the commission. “If it’s got a law that needs to be clarified – I’m not a lawyer. It was clear to me. It was clear to the prosecutor.”

“This is a case where everything was done the way it should have been done,” Crews continued. “A kid saw something and said something, took it to the teachers, school resource officers were involved, we investigated.”

Upon learning about the dismissal of the case, members of the state commission were outraged and worried the student, who is no longer detained, could be a danger to the North Florida community.

“The judge falls outside the scope of reasonableness. I just hope they can live with themselves if something happens,” said Commissioner Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in Parkland.

In a Sept. 9 news release, the Baker County Sheriff’s Office said the juvenile admitted to detectives that he wrote multiple plans to carry out the school shooting with the specific campus locations, dates and times and the specific people he would attack. But the student denied any intention of going through with those plans, the sheriff’s office said.

Gualtieri, who is the sheriff of Pinellas County, said that while he thinks the judge’s ruling is “disturbing,” he doesn’t know what the commission could recommend lawmakers to do.

“The question is, does the statute need to be changed? I don’t see anything in statute that needs to be changed,” Gualtieri said.

Commissioner Max Schachter, father of slain Parkland student Alex Schachter, was frustrated by Gualtieri’s response and suggested the commission scold the judge in a letter for ruling against law enforcement’s actions to “prevent the next Parkland.”

“The commission should write a letter emphasizing … that releasing this person back into society — knowing how they want to kill all these people — is irresponsible and puts the community at risk,” Schachter said.

But no other commissioner agreed with him.

“For us to intervene and chastise a judge and their conduct, I don’t think it is appropriate,” said Commissioner Bruce Bartlett, the chief assistant state attorney for the judicial circuit that includes Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Instead, Bartlett said voters could vote out the judge in the next election.

“This seems to be a situation that happened in one place and a decision made by one court,” the Pinellas sheriff said. “It’s unfortunate and extremely troubling, and all we can do is hope this kid, who is out on the street does not execute his plan.”

The Baker County Sheriff’s Office said they are trying to appeal this case 

Latin – the language of a thousand small victories

I’ve mentioned before that Latin is our daughter’s favorite subject. I even catch her playing her Latin songs for fun when she’s alone. I’m not sure how this happened, except that she is already mature enough to understand the concept of word play.

I took for granted how much studying Latin helps children piece their world together. They develop a considerable English vocabulary simply because the meanings of words become self-evident.

This morning, I was working with Elise on fractions for math. I told her that she could remember that the denominator was on the bottom because it started with a D and the word down also begins with a D. It was a mnemonic device I learned as a child.

She stared at me for a second and replied (rather condescendingly, I might add): “Or, I could just remember that the stem de– in Latin means down, as in decline or descend.” Seriously?

From this word, she also recognizes nomen, the Latin word for name (quid est tuum praenomen … tell me what your name is). Incidentally, this really is how we got the word denominator – you have the number and the total within the class of things you are counting. In theory, the denominator defines (names) what it is that you are counting.

Here I was thinking that would be a difficult word for a seven-year-old child to learn, but she had already decoded it and was ready to move on. I can’t tell you how often this sort of thing happens in our household. So many words are fun puzzles to solve.

I have been reading Victor Davis Hanson’s book Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom. The book is about cycles in history where studying classical literature (i.e. Greek and Latin literature, the building blocks of a traditional liberal arts education) has come into and out of favor. I highly recommend this book if you enjoy a meta perspective on education. (It’s also good for your sanity if you hate the culture wars… This is not the first unbearably stupid time to be alive, and what is outstanding about western civilization will ultimately persist unharmed.)

We are obviously living in a period where classical education is out of favor in the broader culture of education. Nearly a century ago, there were one million American students studying Latin in any given year. Now Latin is the language of an evil patriarchy and universities apply a curve to SAT scores, as a not insignificant number of American teenagers are completely mystified by the content of their own language.

A young child in the 1930s would think your average college student in 2019 was an imbecile. (Incidentally, we get the word imbecile from bacillus, a device for physical support, like a cane. If you are an imbecile, your mind is a physically weak structure. You have not been given anything to hold you up as a person. A great metaphor for education.)

Dr. Hanson suggests in the book that classical literature has survived because the wisdom of ancient civilizations always find passionate protectors. I am happy to be one of them in this era.

The culture wars of late 18th century America

I rather enjoyed reading about the experiences with students at William & Mary that contributed to Thomas Jefferson taking on the project of education reform (from today’s Wall Street Journal):

By this time he had lost all patience with the college in Virginia’s colonial capital, and no wonder. As Mr. Taylor shows in his unsparing account of Jefferson’s efforts to “reform Virginia through education,” William & Mary was becoming, in the decades before and after American independence, a school in name only. Enrollment was declining, the buildings were a wreck, and the students—mostly the scions of Virginia’s slaveholding plantation masters—made the toga-wearing frat boys of “Animal House” seem like scholars of remarkable seriousness and propriety.

Besides taking potshots at one another, William & Mary’s students, over the years, drank and gambled and vandalized the townspeople’s houses. At least once they fired a cannon down Williamsburg’s main thoroughfare. They broke into Bruton Parish Church, shattering the communion table “into a thousand pieces,” according to one of the students, scattered Bibles and prayer books around the church yard, and “bedaubed from one end [of the pulpit] to the other with human excrement.” They even “dug up the body of a female that had been buried for many months,” a Norfolk newspaper reported, “took it from the coffin, and placed it on the floor of an empty house in a situation too shocking to describe!!!”

This is far from the first time American culture has been besieged by a generation of nihilists, and it likely won’t be the last. College is treated like a second infancy now, with ever-decreasing academic and professional standards, but it is not the first time this phenomenon has occurred.

Jefferson’s experiment with raising better kids essentially had two pillars: (1) remove them from the corrupting forces of urban life (that’s why the University of Virginia is in the Piedmont); (2) remove them from the corrupting forces of elites and bring them back to Enlightenment and neoclassical ideals (that’s why the bratty elitists of the Church of England had no influence over his university’s operations). I think there’s a lot of wisdom in both of these notions.

Jefferson’s experience was not all that different from Cicero’s. When Cicero was a youth, Rome was in the middle of a violent (literally) culture war. He was from an aristocratic family with a serious country estate. Cicero went into a period of self-imposed exile from the negative influences of the city and basically waited out his peers returning to sanity.

From his family’s country estate, he gave himself the best home education a young adult could have for and spent a great deal of time practicing rhetoric and the arts of persuasion. By the time events in the city had stabilized, he was well prepared to take his place among political leadership.

I think the cloistered masses reviving classical education in the United States have taken on the same project. You have a lot of people who are removing their children physically and intellectually from toxic cultural influences now. History shows over and over that they will be rewarded for doing so.

The highest ideals of western civilization always recover because they contain very real moral truths. Sometimes a generation has to hit rock bottom in their behavior to recognize them, however.

The importance of record-keeping for homeschoolers

I see a lot of homeschool blogs and social media groups that try to sell homeschooling as a lifestyle (versus a very serious commitment to educate your child) trying to downplay the effort that homeschoolers must invest in record-keeping. This is particularly true for “unschoolers,” who tend to paint homeschooling in general as some super relaxing and stress-free endeavor. Just ignore all that tedious institutional baggage! You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!

In my personal experience talking to new homeschooling parents and grandparents, it seems like a lot of people are taking this advice at face value. I’ve met many who invest almost no effort in the daily activity log and portfolio of schoolwork that is legally required in our state. Some mothers I’ve encountered even banded together to form a private school, which was mostly to evade the record-keeping and annual evaluation requirements imposed by the state. This is why I say the unschooling fad is the biggest regulatory risk to serious homeschoolers there is – far, far worse than public school activists. They rank up there with midwives and anti-vaxxers in terms of unflattering exposes that will inevitably happen when the rest of society notices they exist. Truly, I miss the 1990s when homeschooling was mostly the domain of tiger moms.

Anyway, my advice to new homeschoolers is to ignore people who praise lackadaisical record-keeping bigtime. They are offering you very bad legal advice – and it is legal advice. While you are at it, ignore their advice on curriculum too. If they are put out by the idea of daily record-keeping, they probably aren’t investing much of their time in actual instruction either.

When we first started homeschooling, our lawyer said the number one thing we needed to do to protect our rights is keep perfect, unassailable records of what we are doing. Should your right to homeschool ever be legally challenged, he said, there is no statute that is going to protect you if you are not keeping solid records of your child’s education. At the end of the day, a judge is not going to care about your hyper-literal interpretation of the law if it seems like you are genuinely depriving your child of an education. As they say, you shouldn’t simply avoid improper behavior. You should also avoid the appearance of it.

You never have to apologize for excellence.

Moreover, from a bona fide risk management perspective, fights over education are more likely to come from a soured personal relationship than meddling government authorities. This is something a lot of social media homeschooling activists don’t seem to grok. To them, record-keeping is mostly a political issue.

I know a couple who has been locked in a custody battle over their children for most of their children’s lives. One of the biggest sticking points for them is where the kids go to school.

Try to imagine an unschooler defending their education practices in a similar context.

Judge: So he wants to send the kids to public school and does not want you teaching them at home any more. You argue that you have been homeschooling them for five years and it would be disruptive for me to change that. Tell me about your homeschooling program. I don’t see many records here.

Unschooler: Well, I believe that play is the work of childhood. We spend a lot of time at the park and on nature walks.

Judge: So you pulled your kids out of school to play all day? Really?

Unschooler: I want my kids to be critical thinkers and not mindless institutional cogs. The children tell me what they want to learn. It’s called self-directed education, see.

Judge: Please explain to me what you are actually working on in your homeschool. All I see in your portfolio are pictures of you and your kids playing on the beach.

Instead of husband, substitute in an acutely concerned grandparent or meddling neighbor who decided to take their NextDoor gossip-fest into the real world. These are the very real problems that some people are going to face. And the outcomes are going to hinge on their record-keeping.

Record-keeping is not a chore. It’s a way for you to document true academic progress, which is something you will likely be proud of years down the line. It’s also a way to protect your kids. Don’t shrug it off just because folks in a granola mommy chat group told you it was okay.

Who’s who in classical education

There is an unbelievably good essay by Ian Lindquist in National Affairs on the movement among homeschoolers, private schools, and charter schools to revive classical education.

What makes it incredibly useful to classical homeschoolers (like us), or folks seeking an independent classical school, is that it explains the history of the movement and provides something of a who’s who of people involved in running clusters of classical schools and producing classical education curriculum.

For the uninitiated, I think this excerpt describes classical education well:

Classical education tends to emphasize rich, canonical works that have stood the test of time. Not all schools read the same works but, by and large, classical schools hew to Matthew Arnold’s notion that culture, and therefore a sound education, is comprised of “the best which has been thought and said.”

These works are usually part of a core curriculum, which all students must engage with to matriculate to the next level. Classical schools tend to think that there is a body of work with which all students should come into contact. This is not the same as a body of knowledge or a set of facts — though some things do simply have to be known. Instead, it may be better to say that students should be familiar with a body of works that suggest certain questions about what it means to be human and the nature of the world. Classical schools tend to hold that human experience is severely truncated when students do not have the opportunity and vocabulary to ask these questions. This comes as a welcome antidote to the notion, commonly held today, that education can impart facts in the hard sciences and give students an “appreciation” of disciplines such as literature and philosophy.

A corollary of holding that there are certain questions one must ask to be considered an educated person is that students and teachers are open to mystery and transcendence. Students at classical schools tend to be familiar with words like “goodness,” “beauty,” “truth,” “justice,” “virtue.” For many graduates, these are not impenetrable concepts even if they are mysterious. Mysteries excite wonder and elicit inquiry. Graduates of these schools tend to be at home in a disposition of wonder and a mode of inquiry.

Many classical schools expect their teachers to be models to students when it comes to practicing a sense of wonder and inquiry. The teacher is a model of personal ethical conduct as much as an expert in asking questions and prodding students to ask them too. School leaders, for their part, are usually considered not simply bureaucrats who manage a budget and the operations of the functional equivalent of a small business, but are drawn from the ranks of the faculty and tend to have had extensive teaching careers. They act as instructional leaders and coaches to their teachers, in addition to being able to articulate the vision of the school to parents of students.

Finally, classical schools tend to emphasize a coherent school culture as vitally important to the life of the students. Rather than encouraging teachers to develop their own practices and procedures within their classrooms, classical schools tend to encourage faculty to coach and mentor students in the same habits and dispositions throughout the school day. The school is therefore not a series of “island” classrooms but rather a unified whole.

I highly recommend reading the whole essay from the link above if this is something you are interested in for your child.

Is dual enrollment worth it for gifted children?

Dual enrollment programs are all the rage in education now. With dual enrollment, high school (and even middle school) students take college courses (most often community college courses) and receive both college credit and credit toward their high school diploma. In many cases, kids graduate with both a diploma and an Associate’s Degree.

Dual enrollment is an alternative to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate programs in high schools. It started off as an idea to keep high performing students in public schools rather than losing them to private schools or homeschooling. Now homeschooling lobbyists have fought to have the opportunity extended to homeschoolers as well.

What dual enrollment seems to offer is a way of skirting taking high-stakes tests for college credit. Instead, the kids are taking classes from people who themselves probably do not have a PhD and who likely pass everyone who is enrolled through the system.

The main difference to me – in terms of the actual quality of education that a child is receiving – is that with IB or AP, a student is getting a traditional liberal arts education rather than taking random classes alongside the stoners and teenage mothers in their town. I’m not saying this to look down on anyone who is trying to turn their life around by continuing their education. But let’s get real here. You are not talking about an even marginally competitive academic program. You are talking about programs that have historically been directed at individuals who have fallen through the cracks. That’s why the government is okay with putting a 6th grader in the room as well. AP and IB classes are probably far more competitive and stimulating academically.

I’ve met a number of homeschoolers who think their child is exceedingly special for participating in dual enrollment. There are social media groups devoted to pushing homeschooled children into dual enrollment programs at ever earlier ages, when the children would probably be better served by their parents investing in high-quality curriculum developed for gifted and talented kids that will genuinely prepare them for enrollment at a better university. It strikes me that is the quiet trade-off being made here. Their education is cheaper because it genuinely is worth less in the long run.

The number of kids in these programs has been growing exponentially, as state governments push dual enrollment as a way of getting a college degree without mountains of debt (in reality, the cost is usually pushed to state taxpayers – and you are a taxpayer):

In all 50 states, a growing number of high school students are taking what are known as dual-enrollment or dual-credit classes. They’re single classes that earn students both high school and college credit. Ten states now make it mandatory for districts to offer these classes.

And the number of students under 18 taking college courses has skyrocketed. It went from under 300,000 in 1995 to over 1 million in 2015. 

If over one million high school (and even middle school) students are doing this, does it lose its signaling power to colleges and universities (if it ever had it in the first place)?

Do elite colleges and universities even care if you have an Associate’s Degree, which is something no academic would put on their own curriculum vitae because it carries zero prestige?

“But dual enrollment demonstrates that your child can handle college-level work,” folks say. I’m not sure it does that either.

While some folks may think their 12-year-old is profoundly gifted for taking courses at a community college instead of being in 6th grade, a college professor would likely adamantly disagree. More likely, it shows how low academic standards are for these institutions now. Colleges are teaching concepts that should have been mastered in K-12 coursework instead of treating them as prerequisites. It’s not that your kid is high performing, but that some colleges are now low performing. This is not a good thing in our society.

All but the top tier of US universities have essentially started selling college degrees. It is a myth that college in general is exclusive. Only the top tier of universities do not accept nearly everyone who applies. Virtually everyone who graduates from high school can find some institution that is willing to take them, if they in turn are willing to shoulder the cost. This is what turning the federal government into a subsidized student loan machine that will loan unlimited amounts of money to teenagers has done to higher education. We borrow endless amounts of money in the US Treasury market from China and Japan, and use the proceeds to make student loans so every Starbucks barista can have a graduate degree and teach 6th graders part-time at the local community college. This is how broken our education system is. Heck, that’s how broken our federal budget is.

And having middle-schoolers enrolling in college courses is arguably diluting the value of a college degree even further.

This is not to say that enrolling a child who is legitimately profoundly gifted in a traditional four-year university that fits their research goals is a bad idea. But turning community colleges into de facto K-12 public schools seems like objectively bad policy.

As a parent, I almost think using those years to have your child do independent research projects with a carefully selected professional mentor might be a better idea. It will help them mature, build professional connections, and decide if they really want to follow a specific path or consider other alternatives. I don’t know, I am on the fence. But the more I look at dual enrollment programs, the more it seems like everyone is simply agreeing to say the emperor isn’t wearing any clothes.