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Much has been written about why women, and minorities, including women, demonstrate little interest in the STEM disciplines. Why don’t they enter into and excel in the hard sciences? In trying to answer this question we must, of course, utterly ignore the accomplishments of Asians, male and female, because they tend to not only demonstrate such interest, they excel, but that doesn’t fit into various social justice narratives, so must be ignored. And of course, the social justice narrative can run in only certain, easily predicted directions, as Campus Reform reports:

A math education professor at Brooklyn College contends in a recent academic article that ‘meritocracy’ in math classes is a ‘tool of whiteness.

Translation: Math is racist because it demands non-white people be able to actually do math.

Laurie Rubel

Laurie Rubel implicates both meritocracy and ‘color-blindness’ as ideological precepts that hold back racial minorities from succeeding in math classes in an article for the peer-reviewed Journal of Urban Mathematics Education.

Rubel, who taught high school math for nine years before becoming a professor, argues that while meritocracy is commonly linked to hard work and talent, it also ‘functions as a tool of whiteness’ because it ‘ignores systemic barriers and institutional structures that prevent opportunity and success.

Ah! So it’s institutional racism that is holding back these students. Failing to establish a color-blind society and academy in the model of Martin Luther King who dreamt his children would one day be judged on the content of their character is obviously the problem? Not so much:

Color-blindness, too, can be an issue for math teachers, according to Rubel, who asserts that ‘Teachers who claim color-blindness—that is, they claim to not notice the race of their students—are, in effect, refusing to acknowledge the impact of enduring racial stratification on students and their families.’

‘By claiming not to notice, the teacher is saying that she is dismissing one of the most salient features of the child’s identity and that she does not account for it in her curricular planning and instruction,’ Rubel adds, citing education theorist Gloria Ladson-Billings.

Uh, so teachers aren’t supposed to be colorblind anymore because that means dismissing identities and not specifically planning race-based teaching? For math? There’s such a thing as black algebra or Hispanic trigonometry? Perhaps trans geometry? And how do we deal with a black culture that shames and ridicules kids that demonstrate intelligence and ability in academics, calling them ”white?” Where’s the colorblindness in that?

If math teachers notice racial differences between themselves and their students, Rubel elaborates, ‘those differences are typically cast in terms of deficit constructions about students, their places, and their families.

Wait a minute: isn’t Rubel advocating math teachers be all about noticing “racial differences” in their students? Do these “deficit constructions” refer to failure to actually do math correctly? And what do student’s “places”—whatever those might be—or their “families” have to do with their ability to do math, unless Rubel is suggesting such students have safe spaces/places where they might flee the rigors of colorblind math?

To mediate this, Rubel recommends that math teachers incorporate more social justice issues into math lessons, but warns that even ‘teaching for social justice’ can be a ‘tool of whiteness’ if teachers are not sufficiently attuned to the experiences of minority students.

This is because even social justice-minded professors may inadvertently hold the ‘belief that effort is always rewarded, [which corresponds] to various tools of whiteness, like the myths of meritocracy and colorblindness,’ Rubel writes.

How, exactly, would one incorporate social justice into math? Is there a “Black Math Matters” movement? An anti-fascist equation resistance? Campus Reform explains: 

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.’

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.

Uh, isn’t mathematics supposed to be abstract, which requires actual hard work and time to understand and master? Where, pray tell, will teachers find time to teach “inequity, poverty, and privilege” rather than math, and how might those issues aid in dealing with abstraction? How can math teachers atone for their year of oppressing their minority students?

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.

The future with social justice math…

Well of course! Math is all about questioning “normalcy” and subverting power. Forget all of that building bridges, skyscrapers, and “understanding the nature of the universe” oppression! I can’t think of anything more oppressive and in need of social justice remedies than “normalcy,” can you, gentle readers? But isn’t teaching social justice, by definition, adopting a very specific and narrow political/social point of view?

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, isn’t that what “normal” math education is, being generally devoid of social and political indoctrination? So abandoning non-political math for social justice is “pedagogically neutral,” just like not being colorblind is now being racist–or something. It’s so hard to keep up with the latest progressive trends. Perhaps I can start teaching about how grammar denies the essential nature of undocumented immigrant, minority, jihadist, lesbian vegetarians?

For centuries, mathematics has been used as a dehumanizing tool,’ they write, citing the example of how IQ can be used against people who score in the lower half of the distribution.

Of course. IQ is used against such people when they’re denied jobs as engineers, scientists and other professions that rely on absolute accuracy in the application of math. As one born without the math gene, I’ve cleverly compensated by working in fields that don’t require higher math; there are a few. But then again, I’m a white male, so I’m clearly privileged.

Oh well. What can I possibly understand about the cutting edge of mathematics education? I would like advance notice, however, before I cross a bridge, or enter a building, engineered by any of Rubel’s students—of any color. The students, not the bridges or buildings.