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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Anti-racist math: 2 + 2 = whiteness

Apples and oranges featured heavily in my elementary school math curriculum, and yet I knew math was about the numbers, not about the fruit. Even if it's Rashawn who has 6 apples and Carlos who has 3 apples, and they plan to share them with Mei, the problem is white-centric, according to Jennifer Randall, a University of Michigan professor who's founded the Center for Measurement Justice. Could Rashawn afford all those apples? Does his neighborhood have a well-stocked supermarket?


Making tests "anti-racist" would make them "worse than useless," writes Max Eden, who notes that Randall's center has scored $5 million from the Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative,


In her journal article, 'Color-neutral’ Is Not a Thing: Redefining Construct Definition and Representation through a Justice-Oriented Critical Antiracist Lens, Randall observes that test questions typically are scrubbed of distractions. "When context is not clear (or seemingly not present), the implied context, historically, has been whiteness.”


As an alternative, she presents a context-rich, justice-oriented sixth-grade math problem:

“Marcellus is cooking hot meals to hand out to a small group of twelve Black Lives Matters protestors demonstrating against separating families held at the U.S./Mexico border. He is making a meal of rice, cornbread, and red beans. He wants to make enough red beans for each person to have more than ¾ cup. Determine whether each inequality or number lines correctly models c, the number of red bean Marcellus needs to make."

Students are supposed to multiply 12 by ¾ to get 9, and then choose the number line that shows "more than nine."


Of course, if Marcellus was doling out Irish stew or if Helga was cooking sauerkraut for neo-Nazis, the answer be the same.


Later in the journal article, she complains that test questions are written in standard English, rather than African-American Vernacular English. Solving that would require "separate but equal" assessments written in students' preferred modes of communication. Perhaps text-speak and emojis?


Randall talked to Hechinger's Jill Barshay last year about "assessment reparations."


Think about those black parents in the Learning Heroes survey, who say they'd take action if they knew their "B" student did poorly on math tests. An education professor tells them there's no need to check out online math lessons or try to get a tutor. Those tests asked about white-centric math in standard English. Your child would have known the right answer if only the questions were about Black Lives Matter and red beans.

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