It used to be self-evident that the STEM—Science, Technology and Math—fields were more or less immune to social justice nonsense. Math, after all, is about finding the right result. It’s objective, no subjective. One either gets the right result, or one does not. Gender, race, national origin, intersectionality, etc. don’t enter into it. Two plus two equals four in any language and for every gender and race. But now, gentle readers, to our sorrow, we discover even that is no longer certain. Campus Reform reports:
A math education professor at the University of Illinois argued in a newly published book that algebraic and geometry skills perpetuate ‘unearned privilege’ among whites.
Rochelle Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Illinois, made the claim in a new anthology for math teachers, arguing that teachers must be aware of the ‘politics that mathematics brings’ in society.
‘On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White,’ Gutierrez argued.
You know, I’ve always been suspicious of trigonometry…
Gutierrez also worries that algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege, fretting that ‘curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.
Uh, it was, wasn’t it, at least where Pythagoras and Europeans and pi are concerned?
Further, she also worries that evaluations of math skills can perpetuate discrimination against minorities, especially if they do worse than their white counterparts.
‘If one is not viewed as mathematical, there will always be a sense of inferiority that can be summoned,’ she says, adding that there are so many minorities who ‘have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.
I think I’m beginning to see Guitierrez’s problem. Having been born without the math gene, I certainly felt microaggressions in math classrooms when I was younger, though we weren’t sufficiently “woke” to know it back in the 1400s when I was in school. Of course, not being “woke,” I simply thought I needed to work longer and harder, which, as it turns out, helped, though I still don’t see the wonder of the universe when I gaze, cross-eyed, at equations. I guess working longer and harder pales in comparison to being able to claim microaggressions and invoking a right never to feel inferior because others are smarter, or better at something. Come to think of it, I’ve often run into that sort of thing…
Gutierrez stresses that all knowledge is ‘relational,’ asserting that ‘Things cannot be known objectively; they must be known subjectively.
Ah. Now I absolutely know her problem: a mathematician who doesn’t think mathematics is objective. Of course, this is common for progressives. Fact and logic tend to expose their ideas, policies and narratives as so much bovine excrement, so they must be rejected in favor of “alternate ways of knowing.” In other words, they get to make things up and declare them reality.
I’m sure you, gentle readers, being doubly woke, suspect this—like everything else these days–is all the fault of men? A Vanderbilt University Professor agrees:
In a recent article titled Unpacking the Male Superiority Myth and Masculinization of Mathematics at the Intersection, Professor Luis A. Leyva argues that factors such as teacher expectations and cultural norms ‘serve as gendering mechanisms that give rise to sex-based achievement differences.’
Citing the ‘masculinization of mathematics,’ Leyva then suggests that the apparent ‘gender gap’ in mathematical ability is socially constructed (as opposed to arising from inherently different cognitive abilities) and therefore a ‘myth of male superiority.
Leyva may be onto something. I know I’ve always been made to feel inferior by virile, hyper-masculine math geeks with their bulging brains, and trendy, black framed glasses and pocket protectors. If I could have a dollar for every time I’ve heard women swooning over men good at math, drooling over their manly proofs and theorems…
This ‘myth’ is further perpetuated by teachers who point out instances of female underachievement, Leyva claims, asserting that doing so can ‘contribute to the masculinization of the domain that unfairly holds students to men’s higher levels of achievement and participation as a measure of success.
Well, of course! How dare teachers expect people, regardless of gender, to be successful! Why, that’s not diverse and inclusive, it’s…oh. I get it. We have to discriminate to achieve equality, and recognize that women aren’t smart enough to achieve on the same levels as men.
Intersectionality theory from black feminist thought, he adds, can allow for ‘more nuanced analyses of gender’ and its relation to mathematical performance.
‘It is, therefore, critical that scholars examine the influences of different contexts on students’ mathematics achievement and experiences at intersections of gender and other socially constructed identities,’ he concludes.
I guess I’m just hopelessly rational and masculine. I’ve always thought men and women actually have different brains, interests, and abilities. Apparently we must now adapt math to track with black feminist intersectionality theory. How intersectionally theoretic.
But how do we achieve such equality and social justice? There is a six-week online summer course that should do the trick:
Teaching Social Justice through Secondary Mathematics’ is a six-week online course designed by Teach for America and offered through EdX, which provides free online classes from top universities such as Harvard University, MIT, and Columbia University. [skip]
‘Do you ask students to think deeply about global and local social justice issues within your mathematics classroom?’ a course overview asks. ‘This education and teacher training course will help you blend secondary math instruction with topics such as inequity, poverty, and privilege to transform students into global thinkers and mathematicians.
Wait a minute. If they’re mathematicians, being hopelessly white privileged, hyper male and all, how can they possibly be global thinkers?
According to the website, the course can even help students to learn math, because while many aspects of middle- and high-school math ‘can seem abstract to students,’ the developers claim that ‘setting the mathematics within a specially-developed social justice framework can help students realize the power and meaning of both the data and social justice concerns.
Math “can seem abstract to students.” Who coulda thunk it? Who also coulda thunk realizing “the power and meaning of both the data and social justice concerns,” equates to learning mathematics?
The module also identifies five main themes of ‘intersectional mathematics,’ including ‘mathematical ethics,” which refers to the notion that math is often used as a tool of oppression, according to the instructors.
I can get behind at least some of that. I’ve always found algebra oppressive and unethical.
To remedy math’s contribution to oppression, teachers are thus encouraged to think of ways that math can be used to advocate for marginalized populations, to which end they are encouraged to read an article by an English teacher from Hawaii, Christina Torres, who argues that failing to teach students about social justice is a ‘wasted opportunity’ to provide them with the ‘tools to subvert power, question normalcy, and change society as we understand it.
And here I always thought learning advanced math had practical applications like engineering and research. It’s actually all about subverting power and questioning normalcy! We can’t have that normalcy, can we? That would be too—normal.
Despite its emphasis on liberal priorities, the instructors insist that social justice can be taught ‘without bias’ as long as instructors select topics that they feel they can discuss with neutrality.
‘This is not an opportunity for a teacher to impose his or her beliefs on the students. It is important to choose topics about which you feel you can be pedagogically neutral,’ they state, clarifying that ‘Quality social justice and mathematics exploration in the K-12 classroom should be apolitical and non-agenda-driven.
Uh, focusing on social justice to the exclusion of objective reality, and teaching a discipline without relying on the essential foundations of that discipline is “without bias?” I was under the impression teaching math without a social justice focus was, by definition, without bias. Once again, it just goes to prove how hyper masculine, white privileged, non-diverse, non-intersectional, and generally poopy-faced I am. I’m feeling very microaggressed against just now.