‘Social justice math’ in New York

Why teach boring old math when you can teach “social justice math.” Sol Stern writes in City Journal about a Brooklyn conference on “Math Education and Social Justice.”

Prominently displayed on the official program’s first page was a passage from Paulo Freire, the Brazilian Marxist educator and icon of the teaching-for-social-justice movement: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process.”

. . . At many of the conference’s 28 workshops, math teachers proudly demonstrated how they used classroom projects to train students in seeing social problems from a radical anticapitalist perspective. At a plenary session, Professor Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachusetts’ math education department proclaimed that elementary school teachers should not use traditional math lessons, in which students calculate, say, the cost of food. Rather, the teachers should make clear that in a truly “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”

New York City’s Department of Education gave a grant to the conference’s principal organizer, Jonathan Osler, founder of the RadicalMath web site.

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Comments

  1. the teachers should make clear that in a truly “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”

    And if food were free, teacher salaries could be reduced, right?

  2. SuperSub says:

    I read this story, attempted to comment, went on to other things, came back, tried to comment, and have finally, for a third time, tried to put together a comment that expresses my disgust with this story and the educators (I will never call them “teachers”) it covers.
    The individuals are a prime reason (not the only reason) for the sad state of our society. It is this selfish and narcissistic attitude that produces 12 year old girls who glorify Paris Hilton despite her complete lack of common sense and morals… and boys who listen to rappers like Akon even though he sings about abusing women and has actually assaulted female concertgoers onstage.
    Students are taught that they are entitled to food, respect, electronics, shoes, etc, no matter how they act or the choices they make. I was taught that if you wanted to have financial security and respect from others that you had to earn it through your own efforts – there was no concept that a “just” society owed you anything.
    Ah well, I can only hope that my family will find someplace safe before Rome is overrun completely by the barbarians.

  3. SuperSub,
    I think the short version is that “social justice” and individual responsibility are mutually exclusive.

    I got into an argument once with a friend who argued in favor of all the socially just entitlements. The argument came to a dead stop when I asked, “Who pays for it?”

  4. Food would be free if we enslaved the farmers and took away their property rights.

  5. “Rather, the teachers should make clear that in a truly “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.””

    So in a truly just society, scarcity would be abolished? This is, of course, physically impossible even if it were desireable (which it isn’t, but that’s beside my point). It’s where the law of supply and demand meet the laws of thermodynamics.

    These are “math” teachers attempting to teach economics despite not knowing the first thing about it, based on the usual Boomer-inspired premise that wishing something makes it so.

  6. Richard Nieporent says:

    Professor Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachusetts’ math education department proclaimed that elementary school teachers should not use traditional math lessons, in which students calculate, say, the cost of food. Rather, the teachers should make clear that in a truly “just society,” food would “be as free as breathing the air.”

    What an aptly named individual for someone with this philosophy.

  7. I’ve read that in the American South of the Civil War era, math was also used for political propagandizing. Questions on math tests included things like:

    1)A regiment of Yankees is running away at 5mph, starting at 4:00 PM. Ten minutes after they start, a company of Southerners starts in pursuit at 7mph. When are the Yankees caught?

    2)A Yankee shopkeeper mixes 1 part of wooden nutmegs with 2 parts of real nutmegs. If his cost is 3 cents per pound for the wooden ones and 10 cents per pound for the real ones, by what percentage does he reduce his total cost?

    Note that one could actually learn a little math from this kind of thing, and that the writers appeared to have something resembling a sense of humor.

  8. Walter E. Wallis says:

    If education was as free as the air, would teachers work for free?

  9. “New York City’s Department of Education gave a grant to the conference’s principal organizer, Jonathan Osler, founder of the RadicalMath web site.”

    I’ve blogged before that perhaps the single biggest threat to quality education is the three-headed monster of grants, the governments who give them, and the people who apply for them.

  10. BadaBing says:

    The concept of social justice is cool because you can be a scoundrel and rapscallion in your personal life and still proclaim yourself a saint by advocating whatever it is that social justice is supposed to be. Remember those old McDuffy’s Readers that used to teach character and integrity along with reading, grammar, spelling and punctuation? Man, the America those were used in seems like a million years ago.

  11. Michael E. Lopez, Esq. says:

    Walter,

    In the just society, *everyone* works for free.

    -M

  12. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Or else!

  13. I’ve read that in the American South of the Civil War era, math was also used for political propagandizing.

    Widen your scope a bit then. You’ll find out that in every war every side has used the public education system to indoctrinate kids. The lefties who are trying to encumber the public education system with the responsibility of teaching social justice are walking a well-trodden trail. The religious fundamentalists who are trying to get religious dogma into the public education system differ only in their views from social justice cheerleaders, not in the means by which they’re trying to promulgate them.

    Maybe the conclusion to be drawn is that none of these parties ought to be in charge. The problem of course is what to do with the temptation. As long as there’s a public education system it’ll always be seen as the royal road to victory for your ideas.

  14. wayne martin says:

    > As long as there’s a public education system
    > it’ll always be seen as the royal road to victory
    > for your ideas.

    Education, religion and agenda are very hard to separate—no matter how hard you try. It’s very difficult to have any one of these without the others tagging along.

    > A Yankee shopkeeper mixes 1 part of wooden nutmegs
    > with 2 parts of real nutmegs.

    And this is how so many Yankee merchants became very wealthy during the Civil War. In addition to Math, the Confederate text book writers were also including a little history too.

  15. BadaBing says:

    The religious fundamentalists who are trying to get religious dogma into the public education system….

    Ah, yes, those whackos. But when the United States was actually a Christian nation (when the vast majority of its population were avowed Christians) great universities were founded and children were indoctrinated in Judeo-Christian principles. For example, study the lives of ordinary Civil War soldiers, and you will find that deep-seated religious beliefs imbued their character with what some might call virtue. It was an age wherein a man’s word was as good as today’s legally binding contract. And that little McDuffy’s reader I already mentioned had a huge impact on tens of thousands of children’s developing moral characters. But that was a bad thing, right?

    Individuals cannot separate their belief system from their function in society, and now that the prevailing religion is a syncretism of environmentalism, feminism, anti-racism, gay and lesbian promotionalism, and social justice (narrowing the gap between rich and poor), we can see how much better people are compared to 150 years ago.

  16. “…we can see how much better people are compared to 150 years ago.”

    Well, maybe, sort of….

    I read somewhere that the murder rate back then was 50 times that which it is today.

    And, also, there was that business of slavery. Not a very Christian practice….

  17. BadaBing says:

    And, also, there was that business of slavery. Not a very Christian practice….

    True but all the anti-slavery movements, including that of Wilberforce in England, were Christian.

  18. I’ve read about this too, and I also believe that the concept of social justice math is absurd on the face of it. I don’t know whether the teachers who took this seminar volunteered, were dragged kicking and screaming, or just saw a chance for a break in routine. Personally, I’d much rather teach than sit through such blatant drek.

    I can understand many, like Mr. Stern, see this as some sort of liberal indoctrination, and perhaps it is. Regardless, it’s more time-wasting nonsense from people whose job it is to appear to know everything about education. One year it’s portfolios, another year it’s motivation, and apparently this year it’s social justice math. This is a concept that’s highly unlikely to yield results or grab the imagination of the public at large.

    What this will accomplish, in the long run, like all of Mr. Klein’s reforms, is little or nothing. Test scores will go up in one grade, down in another, and he’ll declare victory. Diane Ravitch will write an article explaining what really happened, and none of the NYC papers will cover it.

    Mr. Klein is about to embark on his third reorganization, and I’ve read nary a word about the obvious implication that his first two have failed. When this one fails too, he’ll rename a bunch of schools, bus kids from one end of the city to another, and declare victory yet again. He’ll fiddle with it a little, get the UFT President on board, and the tabloids will hail his efforts.

  19. Walter E. Wallis says:

    I question whether the murder rate was very high back then. And if slavery is so bad, [which it is] why is it impossible for me, in oh so progressive Palo Alto, to get a resolution condemning slave grown chocolate introduced?

  20. I’ve addressed so-called social justice on my blog several times, and social justice as regards math more than a few times:
    http://rightontheleftcoast.blogspot.com/search/label/social%20justice

    This is a pernicious concept, one that deserves more than just casual dismissal.

  21. Sol Stern has also written a long report on the “social justice” travesty in schools (including the assault on math).

    I linked to the report at my site: http://instructivist.blogspot.com/2007/05/social-justice-assault.html

  22. Grazie Christie says:

    In my son’s very secular prep school, the only moral objective lauded is environmentalism. And they beat that drum ALL DAY LONG. It’s as though teachers are itching to teach something moral and the only thing allowed these days is GREEN-NESS.