Social Justice Warriors are Coming for Mathematics

And they're coming hard and fast

By William M Briggs Published on October 19, 2017

Great news! For those kids who will be taught math by teachers graduating from Texas State University’s Math Education program, life just got easier.

This is bound to be confusing, so keep this fact in mind. Universities hire Math Education professors, whose job is to train primary and secondary education math teachers. Got it?

According to the not-unusual official want-ad, Texas State University is looking for math education professorial candidates

… who share our commitment to educational equity, to social justice, and to the recruitment and high-quality education of students from historically underserved and systemically marginalized communities. We are especially interested in applicants whose scholarly interests and work include attention to the concerns of race, ethnicity, multilingualism, immigrant, social class, gender, and diversity, broadly defined.

∫ ex dx = White Privilege

Social-Justice-Warrior-minded professors whose job is to train future math teachers will thus be hired.

You might think these prospective math teachers would learn from these professors the best ways to teach that the indefinite integral of the tangent of x with respect to x equals the negative log of the absolute value of the cosine of x, plus a constant. They might instead be taught that Leibniz and Newton, the inventors of the calculus, were white Christian men. And were therefore probably racist and sexist and can be ignored.

That’s only partly a joke.

Inequality ≠ Injustice

Why are SJWs coming for math? Because it turns out not everybody can learn math equally well. Just as everybody cannot be a professional basketball player. But SJWs insist that everybody must. So, any “disparities” in learning must be caused by social injustice.

Yet just as everybody cannot be over six feet tall, not everybody has the same facility with math. Some are better at it, some worse. Some are better because of innate talent and industriousness. Some are better because circumstance allows them to use their talents.

But there’s no evidence except desire that everybody can learn math equally well, even under identical circumstances. Equity is desired, as the ad says, but it will never be reached.

Sometimes ∑ Males > ∑ Females

Math class, as Barbie rightly said, is tough. That toughness is why official groups of math education specialists fret that “mathematics achievement … measured by standardized tests, has been used as a gatekeeping tool to sort and rank students.”

This ranking often shows “disparities” in “race, class, and gender.” And that, they suppose, is unjust.

There are only two things that can be done to remove these “disparities.” The first is obvious: have under-performing students study harder whilst improving their studying circumstances. Much money and effort were spent on this praiseworthy method. Yet certain “disparities” persisted. Some became more glaring at advanced levels.

Mathematics ∉ My Culture

This leads to the second erasure method: redefine what mathematics means.

In an upcoming article in Academic Questions, I review the book Critical Mathematics Education: Theory, Praxis, and Reality. It contains several essays describing the latest fads in the field.

One of the hottest topics is “ethnomathematics.” This is a system whereby we let each person or culture define what math is to them.

Partly this makes sense. If you’re searching for relevant math examples, familiarity helps. In Canada, students will find rates of tooth loss and puck speed of interest. In the USA you might calculate how much revenue the NFL will lose as it switches its focus from sports to social justice. Examples are easy to discover.

But ethnomathematics is also used to explain why the tough stuff, and even math itself, isn’t important — and can thus be ignored. Some math educators say culturally defined math is a human “right.”

Social Justice × xx = 0

To be jettisoned (says one the book’s authors) are the “criteria of validity, reliability, and objectivity as they are understood and applied in scientific paradigm research.” In their place will come an intense awareness of “social class,” diversity, equality, and all the other standard goals of modern academia.

That attitude explains books like Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice: Conversations with Educators. It promises to help educators “recognize the important role that mathematics teaching plays in helping students to understand and overcome social injustice and inequality.”

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Take two influential organizations, the National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics (NCSM) and TODOS: Mathematics for ALL. They state that they “ratify social justice as a key priority in the access to, engagement with, and advancement in mathematics education for our country’s youth.”

They say, “a social justice stance interrogates and challenges the roles power, privilege, and oppression play in the current unjust system of mathematics education-and in society as a whole.”

Math itself must fade into the background to fit in all these rich educational concepts. But that’s fine. Because as math goes away, so will disparities in math education.

Shhh!

Note that the professors here are in math education and not math departments. You’re not supposed to say so, because the professoriate likes to paint itself as one big happy family. But the opinion math professors have for math education faculty is often the same as the opinion Hillary Clinton has of you.

And if this new math teaching fad catches on, the math gap between real mathematicians and everyone else will only grow wider.

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  • Wayne Cook

    2+2=whatever. End of education.

    • Alice Cheshire

      More importantly, end of reality. That’s the goal. Where nothing is real and immutable, there’s no laws, no morals, nothing. We become animals lead by emotions and instincts. Which is the goal here. Removal of reality is the way every dictatorship begins. Lies become truth, black becomes white, freedom becomes captivity. It’s predictable and is always repeated in history no matter if one studies history or not. It’s the human condition.

      • Wayne Cook

        When I was taking philosophy it was labeled Nihilism.

  • Dean Bruckner

    Progressivism poisons everything.

    • tz1

      But that is because toxicology needs to be changed to reflect the new SJW teaching methods.
      Note that things have not changed since Socrates.

  • Diogenes71

    Progressivism/liberalism destroys everything it controls.

    Look at the inner cities under control of the Democrat party for 50 years or so! and converted them into indoctrination centers where young adults’ minds are

    It has destroyed the universities making them into indoctrination centers filling the empty brains of young adults with Leftist cant.

    Guvmint schools, from Kindergarten through high school teach subtly that man is not transcendent but must conform and not thinks things out for himself. Natural Law has been suppressed and substituted by the tyranny of relativity. What was true yesterday in not true today.

    • MikeyParks

      Ironically, the Russians (U.S.S.R.) had enormous respect for math-driven technology. They would have wiped their rear ends on this PC drivel.

  • tz1

    In this eden is the snake an adder?

    Women in STEM = periodic harmonic oscillations at arborial altitude: when (not if) the bough breaks the baby will fall.

  • davidrev17

    But Mr. Briggs: please tell a mindless, flat-earth believing evangelical byybull-thumpin’ Christian lyyyk mysef, just “why mathematics is [literally] the language of nature” itself??

    Are these ultra-smart, intellectual elitist [read atheist] folk controlling most of our American “indoctrination stations,” actually teaching their collective student-bodies the profound implications of such mathematical curiosities – now recognized throughout this Creatorless “nature red in tooth and claw,” in which we’re somehow thriving??

    (See the still-powerfully compelling essay, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” by the late Nobel laureate quantum physicist, Eugene Wigner, in Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, I, Feb. 1960.)

  • Bob Adome

    In STEM fields 2+2=4, or a square is not a circle, or why Ivory soap is 99% pure. Certain science fields need philosophy. A point of view from which you approach or expect an outcome. That is why many results can be made or forced to those desired. For example, we all agree that the poor should be provided for. We disagree on how and who should be involved in the process of providing it. Whether or not a program provides dependence or independence. Social SCIENTIST and politicians disagree on how poverty can be dealt with.

  • MikeyParks

    Real math will always live. It’s necessary for almost EVERYTHING that’s built, created or conceived. Try landing men on the moon without mathematics. The people who stay with the real thing will succeed. Those who are taught that math doesn’t matter, or should be dumbed down so that idiots can think they’re studying math, or that math is a squishy experiment that’s part of “inclusivity”, will be left in the dust – where they are right now.

  • G Hazel

    I was leery of “ethnomathematics” until I read the article. It’s basically showing people how their everyday lives pertain to math and how you can use math to understand and work with the things you deal with in real life. That sounds awesome! Pure math is hard for most people to understand but when you can relate it to your life it comes alive. And I would disagree that it ‘lets each person define what math means to them’ – it’s a structured program that brings math into real life situations.

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