Prof: Math ‘operates as Whiteness’
A free online class on integrating social justice into high school math has been revised to focus on “social issues,” reports Toni Airaksinen on Campus Reform.
The class was designed by Teach for America and offered by EdX.
The class, formerly titled Teaching Social Justice Through Secondary Mathematics, was aimed at teaching math instructors how to create lesson plans to teach their students about privilege, racism, and inequality using concepts like geometry and ratios. Teachers were also to be introduced to the concept of “intersectional mathematics” theory, which states that “math has been used as a dehumanizing tool” for centuries, and that it can be used as a “tool of oppression.”
“While we believe the content and approach of the course is strong, we modified language that was subject to politicization and interpretation,” TFA’s Danielle Montoya told Campus Reform. “Teach For America’s work transcends political ideology, and we want to be absolutely clear on that.”
“Mathematics operates as Whiteness,” argues Rochelle Gutierrez, a math education professor at the University of Illinois, in a new anthology for math teachers. “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.”
In addition, Gutierrez writes, “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”
(In many California schools, math is seen as an Asian thing. It’s not because Asian-American students think they’re Greek.)
She worries that minority students who do worse in math than their white classmates will feel inferior, reports Airaksinen. Many minorities “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly,” writes Gutierrez.
Racializing math — suggesting that it’s a white (or Asian) thing — is very dangerous. Why not focus on teaching all students to reason abstractly and then to apply their math skills to social problems.