Saturday, February 13, 2021

What's Old Is New Again

I was writing about "ethnomathematics" back in 2005, the first year of this blog.  A couple of those posts are here and here, although you can type "ethnomathematics" in the search engine on this page and find other posts with that reference.

When they can't give you good government, they give you "woke" government.  When they can't give you good education, they give you "woke" education.  Enter "ethnomathematics":

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently encouraged teachers to register for training that encourages "ethnomathematics" and argues, among other things, that White supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer.

An ODE newsletter sent last week advertises a Feb. 21 "Pathway to Math Equity Micro-Course," which is designed for middle school teachers to make use of a toolkit for "dismantling racism in mathematics." The event website identifies the event as a partnership between California's San Mateo County Office of Education, The Education Trust-West and others. 

Part of the toolkit includes a list of ways "white supremacy culture" allegedly "infiltrates math classrooms." Those include "the focus is on getting the 'right' answer," students being "required to 'show their work,'" and other alleged manifestations.

"The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so," the document for the "Equitable Math" toolkit reads. "Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict."

I addressed (and dismantled) these points in the posts I linked to above.  In the second link I quoted the following, which is as applicable today as it was in 2005:

But isn't this a twist on the pseudo-science of old, which claimed that efforts to educate blacks would be fruitless because their capacity to learn was different from that of whites? Why is this argument acceptable today simply because it is being advanced by minority "multiculturalists"? The view that blacks and whites somehow interpret learning differently is -- in part -- a holdover from the silly debates surrounding "ebonics" that raged throughout the 1990s and that continue to handicap discussions of urban education to this very day.

Why yes, yes it is--a version of  the belief that blacks don't learn the same way whites do, that they're inferior.  Sounds kinda racist to me, and I don't accept it.


Pseudotsuga said...

Modern education, especially in education training, seems to be to take anything and twist it to the left using the wrench of "equity" (which is a code word for racism).

KJ said...

I wholly agree with your last sentence. I don't see how to square "blacks don't learn the same way and thus can't do 'white' mathematics" with, for instance, "Hidden Figures". It seems a terrible handicap to put on the students, telling them they aren't capable of learning. At the same time, there is a big push to highlight nonwhite and female scientists and mathematicians- doesn't their success disprove the underlying claim of this toolkit?

But there's something else I don't understand in this toolkit: both "There's a correct answer" and "Show your work" are considered "white supremacist"? What's left? I don't really think "Just write something down" is useful, but if the teacher can't grade based on the response being correct or the reasoning having merit, isn't that all that remains? Why bother at all if no response can be marked wrong? (To be fair, that would make your job easier, wouldn't it? Pointless, perhaps, but easy. We could even autofill the grade forms with As for you.)

The document contains a suggestion about "find[ing] more than one answer to this", supposedly to explore the hidden assumptions. There's actually merit to that approach, but only if you explain why your answer is correct (obviously).

Jaimi said...


I've been following your blog for years, probably not too long after you started it (long story). I taught middle school math for 3 years in Woodland, CA, then moved back up to Oregon (not my smartest move, I'll admit) and taught for another 12 years before throwing in the towel in 2017. I have very much enjoyed reading your blog and want to thank you for your insights over the years.

Have you heard of James Lindsay?

Darren said...

Jaime, I've heard the name but had to look him up.

Darren said...

You know what's sad? If I didn't teach a thing, and if I just handed out A's, I don't think anyone would complain.