Saturday, May 12, 2007

Conference On Math and Social Justice

The so-called social justice math conference took place last month, and City Journal has the appropriate take on it.

The conference’s organizers left nothing to the imagination about their leftist agenda. 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.”

That was for those of you who question why I attack the so-called social justice movement so much. If you'd like more reasons why, click on the "social justice" label at the left or at the end of this post.

Here's how City Journal ended their piece:

It’s ironic that while Bloomberg extols the benefits of the market in education, his schools are becoming rife with radical teachers using the classroom to trash the American system.

You don't say.

This movement, and the leftward lurch we're seeing by the Democrats, isn't going away soon, and this is definitely a field on which I'm willing to plant my standard and fight.


Law and Order Teacher said...

Wow! Thanks for bringing this out into the light of day. I am used to the social sciences (I teach history) being a bastion of leftist drivel. But I thought that math (2+2=4) was the last thing that could be exploited. Boy was I wrong. Once again, I have underestimated the inventive nature of zealots. Damn, it's depressing that people use schools to promote their agenda. Is it any wonder our track record stinks? I know I sound naive, but why to we continue to indoctrinate our kids. Oh, that's right the colleges that teach the teachers are bastions of left wing manure. Talk about connecting the dots.

allen said...

I know I sound naive, but why to we continue to indoctrinate our kids.

Not naive, just too close to the problem.

Indoctrination has always been a part of the mission of public education. It's just being co-opted by lefties.

Previously, the indoctrination was to help ensure that the next generation of Americans would know the pledge of allegiance, could name the thirteen original colonies and knew that America was the best gosh darned country in the world without having to understand why.

The lefties are angling to make that next generation soldiers in the great class struggle which will return the means of production....blah, blah, blah.

PETA's chiming in, hoping to mold a few young minds and the religious fundamentalists want to make sure kids don't get too wrapped up in that science stuff.

But that's not a bug, it's a feature. In part, this is what the system was designed to do. It's just a question of who gets to decide what's going to be pounded into the heads of children not whether any indoctrination'll be done.

Law and Order Teacher said...

You make a good point. But you sound a little cynical. You're right about the indoctrination aspect. It is really who sets the agenda. The agenda was stolen by the lefties of my generation and it has resulted in a messed-up school system. We have kids who are forced to learn about Beowulf who really are good at repair work. Instead of saying that any work that benefits society is honorable we try to shove a liberal arts education down the throat of every kid even if it doesn't benefit him/her. It is good to identify children who can do hands-on work and let them train for it. College bound children should receive an education in material appropriate to that. But in the America of the left everyone can learn the same material. Baloney. There is no shame in being good at something other that college material. Until we realize that and act on it we will continue to slide in the world.

KauaiMark said...

M. Frankenstein

What a perfect name for an advocate of social math.

Mike said...

Social justice. One wonders about the legitimacy (and honesty) of any movement that cannot accurately label its central tenants, but must cover them with euphamisms like "social justice," lest the public immediately see them for what they are and run the other way. Social justice is at best radical socialism, at worst communism, and in practice the planks of the Democrat party platform.

And I must take exception with Allen's characterization that education in the values, history and ideals that make Americans Americans is indoctrination, at least insofar as the common context of the word is understood. I suspect that most understand indoctrination to be employed in the specific service of a political ideology, and that such indoctrination is negative in the sense that it is, if not anti-American, at least anti-social. Learning bout the founding of the nation and of the value we all need to embrace to be functioning members of the American social contract cannot fairly be said to be indoctrination but most probably, citizenship education. One is necessary, even noble, in that it inculcates adherence only to a positive set of values that not only allow but appreciate peaceful dissent and vigorous discussion, the other is not and does not.

allen said...

law and order teacher wrote:

You make a good point. But you sound a little cynical.

Thanks but I think the two are mutually exclusive. Cynicism is self-serving ("all politicians are liars", i.e. I'm honest because I'm not a politician.) which means objectivity and accuracy are usually in the way. You can't be right and cynical.

Besides, in quite a few countries they're quite forthcoming about the indoctrinational aspect of public education. It's not up for discussion, it's just a matter of state policy and common sense.

Here in the U.S. the indoctrination function has always elicited a certain level of discomfort I believe. How do you square a sovereign citizenry, endowed by our creater with certain inalienable rights, with the mandatory attendance and subsequent regimentation of the public education system?

You really can't so the undemocratic nature of public education is carefully ignored. It's just one of those unpleasent necessities up with which we have to put to protect the nation.

Trouble is, that assumes that only the right people will be in charge of deciding what the indoctrination consists of. That's the reason all the special interest groups target the public education system. They have to for both defensive reasons, to prevent the opposition from poisoning children's minds and offensive reasons, so they can poison children's minds. That's why the assumption that the right people will be in charge of setting the indoctrination agenda is so dangerous.

The existence of the indoctrination function of public education is inherently dangerous. It's a loaded firearm left where children can get at it.

mike wrote:

And I must take exception with Allen's characterization that education in the values, history and ideals that make Americans Americans is indoctrination, at least insofar as the common context of the word is understood.

Then I didn't make myself clear.

I don't believe teaching American history, values and ideals is, in itself, indoctrination. Far from it. I'll occasionally pull up the Consitution and the Declaration of Independence just to feel the texture of the words that embody an idea as powerful, and in the context of most of human history, as unlikely as "all men are created equal".

But in the public education system that history and those values and ideals become indoctrination because they're a result of the use of political power and reflect the views of whoever controls the school board. When control changes hands the political slant of the curriculum changes with it from the revisionist warping of history to a thoughtful, balanced presentation, depending on whether you're on the winning or the losing side. It's the coercion that changes opinion into indoctrination.

The cure for bad indoctrination then isn't good indoctrination but no indoctrination. Since that state of grace doesn't and probably can't exist, the next best thing is to reduce the scope of the indoctrination from district- or state-wide to family-wide.

If you happen to be a good, little communist and want your kids to learn to sing the "Internationale" as their first words that's all fine with me as long as it's only the education of your own kids that you control. Your responsibility, your decision and if it turns out badly, your guilt.

But most parents, faced with the responsibility of their children's futures, will take a more thoughtful, moderate tack. They'll be repelled by extremism and look for the safe middle. That's where you'll find that American social contract and that's what most parents will pick for their children.

Law and Order Teacher said...

I enjoyed your post and I thought it over for awhile. Your characterization of cynicism and rightness as mutually exclusive was thought-provoking. However, I can not agree. I think that you can be right and cynical. Cynicism is merely moral skepticism or distrust of another's motives. I am cynical about socialism, even though the motives of most who believe in it are good. It would be dishonest of me to trust socialism despite the evidence of its failures throughout the world.

Your post does however, make a point that is very well taken in reference to the possibility of indoctrination. That is of course, if you think that education is indoctrination per se. It is always hoped that education, practiced correctly, is an open door to inquiry. The outcome of that inquiry, it is hoped, is an open minded pursuit of knowledge.

Please allow me to qualify, however. It is nearly inhuman to teach without prejudice. The control of that prejudice by the teacher, while challenging, can be achieved to a great degree. This achievement to a great degree will allow students to inquire (learn)and formulate their knowledge in an environment that encourages this acquisition of knowledge.

Having said all that, the line between education and indoctrination is thin indeed. It has been blurred almost beyond recognition in public schools. Will we be able to retrieve it? Who knows?

carol said...

Sure I remember the "indoctrination," if you want to call it that, at LA City Schools during the 1950s. But it did not permeate MATH for crying out loud, nor science either. The flag-waving was part of that awful Social Studies tripe they came up with. Math and science were still lovely subjects where a kid could go to *get away* from politics per se.

As for social justice, which my local parish is hammering us on right now (to forgive 3rd World debt) I am reminded of Hayek's observation that whenever you put "social" next to any other perfectly good word, it sucks the meaning right out of it. I see little Justice in Social Justice.