On December 7th, USA Today Tweeted out a headline asking “Is math racist?”, prompting significant backlash from the internet. Most responses poked fun at this suggestion, and others questioned if it was a joke.
The full headline reads: “Is math racist? As many students of color struggle with the subject, schools are altering instruction — sometimes amid intense debate.”
In follow-up Tweets, USA Today explained that some new approaches include customizing lessons to the cultural interests of students and helping minority students who have fallen behind in math skills due to the pandemic.
Washington Times columnist, Tim Young, responded to USA Today, saying,
“Math isn’t racist… but “educators” who think it needs to be changed and made easier because some black kids struggle with it… ARE.”
Math isn’t racist… but the “educators” who think it needs to be changed and made easier because some black kids struggle with it… ARE.
When you try to access the article linked to USA Today’s controversial Tweet, the story is unavailable to those who don’t subscribe to the news publication. One math teacher pointed this out in his response to USA Today, saying,
“I’m a math teacher… 25 years… and I find it somewhat ironic that this article is NOT accessible for general reading for low-income folks. So, is @USAToday racist because it fails to be equitable and accessible to all? Just using my mind to ponder.”
Back in February, the Bill Gates Foundation donated $140 million to create new math education guidelines to help teachers avoid “White supremacy culture”. This new form of education suggests teachers should answer math problems without using words or numbers… which supposedly help to create a more even playing field for minority students.
These teaching guidelines suggest that forcing students to ‘show their work’ reinforces the “worship of the written word” as well as paternalism. Showing work on math problems is a common practice that is used to help the students understand the process of the math problem. It also helps teachers see how the student worked through the problem and, if incorrect, to help guide the student through what they did wrong. Apparently, teachers don’t need to understand how students are thinking about math problems and, if the student is learning to do math the wrong way…hey, at least it’s more inclusive!
The Bill Gates Foundation’s teaching guide also suggests that students should create TIkToks, videos, silent films, or cartoons to explain math concepts. In a classroom in Jacksonville, Florida, math is taught through song and dance. I’m sure dancing out your long division is really impactful.
Some radical leftists have gone so far as to suggest that math problems should include real-world problems centered around racial and social inequities. Math can’t just be math anymore, it has to include an element of politics to divide young students at an early age.
California State University mathematics professor Wayne Bishop shared his opinion on this debate, saying “The result is that more people are admitted to college but fewer are prepared for a hard science or engineering college regimen.”
To Bishop’s point, by dumbing down math education to make it more inclusive, students will be learning at less intensive levels. Students could score higher on math tests, but overall will not understand math concepts in the proper ways to use later in life.
If students are struggling in math, there is no problem with them seeking additional help, and the teacher can of course work to help the student comprehend the concepts. However, to completely restructure math education to accommodate those who are less gifted at the subject would be a disservice to those who are able to succeed in the courses. Students will always be at differing levels in all subjects, but we cannot and should not hold students back from excelling. That is simply not how life works.
Many comments on this Tweet point out that dumbing down the curriculum is ultimately disadvantageous to students. Teachers should change how they teach students who need extra help, not what is taught to everyone.
One Twitter user replied with a hilarious, yet valid, point:
“I’m a black man and I’ve never felt discriminated by an integer, prime number, or even a square root. Maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough for something to get offended by in Calculus 1.”
I’m a black man and I’ve never felt discriminated by an integer, prime number, or even a square root. Maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough for something to get offended by in Calculus 1.
Important, impactful change in educational institutions comes from hiring the right people who care about their students. Blaming everything on racial inequities doesn’t do anything to better society or improve education. Rather, it does these students a disservice by deepening racial divides and dumbing down their education.
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