California Professors Urge State Not to Reform Math Teaching in Schools for Sake of Social Justice
California is seeking to improve the way math is taught in order to help more children succeed in science, technology, engineering, and math. But the proposed changes have been widely panned for rejecting the concept of gifted children and advising against placing specific pupils in advanced middle school classes to help "underprivileged" kids.
Hundreds of eminent science and mathematics professors have signed an open letter expressing "urgent concern" about California's efforts to overhaul mathematics teaching in the name of social justice.
According to the open letter
signed by 746 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) academics as of Monday evening, the California Department of Education's (CDE) proposed new mathematics framework aims to reduce achievement gaps by limiting the availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers, making it more difficult for students to succeed in STEM at college.
"Such frameworks aim to reduce achievement gaps by limiting the availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers," the letter reads. "While such reforms superficially seem “successful” at reducing disparities at the high school level, they are merely “kicking the can” to college. While it is possible to succeed in STEM at college without taking advanced courses in high school, it is more challenging. College students who need to spend their early years taking introductory math courses may require more time to graduate. They may need to give up other opportunities and are more likely to struggle academically."
According to the signatories, this reform could "disadvantage K-12 public school students in the United States compared with their international and private-school peers." Moreover, they emphasized that the move "may lead to a de facto privatization of advanced mathematics K-12 education and disproportionately harm students with fewer resources."
The signatories denounced the CDE's "deeply worrisome trend" of promoting "trendy but shallow" courses such as data science above "essential" mathematical tools such as calculus and algebra.
"Subjecting the children of our largest state to such an experiment is the height of irresponsibility," the letter added.
The signatories asked that all kids, regardless of background, have access to a "precision and rigor" based math curriculum, as well as multiple ways to explore mathematics at various middle and high school grade levels.
"Far from being deliberately held back, all students should have the opportunity to be nurtured and challenged to fulfill their potential," the letter said. "This is not only for their own benefit but also for society and the nation’s economic competitiveness."
The state's new math framework
has been criticized widely by professionals and academics. The draft also attempts to promote high-level math courses such as data science or statistics as alternatives to calculus.
Moreover, the framework indicated that math should not be colorblind, and that teachers may utilize lessons to investigate social justice issues, such as looking for gender stereotypes in word problems or applying arithmetic concepts to issues like immigration or inequality.
The new guidelines drew a lot of heat over the past several months, with accusations in the media that it would introduce "woke" politics into a topic that is intended to be practical and exact.
However, the proponents of social justice in mathematics teaching argue that the disproportion of whites among math academics is way too high, thus exemplifying "white privilege." According to National Review,
in the thesis of a 2017 book, Rochelle Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Illinois, stated that "in many ways, mathematics itself works as whiteness."
"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," she wrote, adding that algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege. "Curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”
Moreover, Gutierrez claimed that mathematics promotes white privilege because society places a high value on math skills, giving math professors "unearned privilege." And math professors are predominantly white, according to Gutierrez, as cited in the report.
"Are we really that smart just because we do mathematics?" she wondered, referring to data that reportedly shows that math professors tend to earn more research funding than social studies or English professors.
In his turn, Lawrence Summers, Charles W. Eliot Professor and President Emeritus at Harvard, who served as former President Bill Clinton's Treasury Secretary, stated on Twitter
that "in China, math standards are not subject to continued erosion by social justice warriors who can’t themselves define exponential growth or solve quadratic equations."
This summer, more than 1,100 Californians working in science and technology signed an open letter arguing that it is "immoral and foolish" to "intentionally hold back
the intellectual growth of students by forcing them to waste time in unchallenging classes."
Due to the outcry, the California Board of Education has decided
to postpone implementation of the framework until May 2022, when it will re-evaluate the curriculum before finalizing it.