Wednesday, July 20, 2005, PC math?

As the holder of a math degree, I was pretty confident that my undergraduate discipline would be able to avoid the noxious political correctness that infests today’s public and higher education. Alas, even something as pure as math is not safe in the 21st century, as seen in the Wall Street Journal via Don Luskin:

Now mathematics is being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators who call themselves "critical theorists." They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice. Social justice math relies on political and cultural relevance to guide math instruction. One of its precepts is "ethnomathematics," that is, the belief that different cultures have evolved different ways of using mathematics, and that students will learn best if taught in the ways that relate to their ancestral culture. From this perspective, traditional mathematics -- the mathematics taught in universities around the world -- is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors. The culturally attuned teacher will learn about the counting system of the ancient Mayans, ancient Africans, Papua New Guineans, and other "non-mainstream" cultures.

Partisans of social justice mathematics advocate an explicitly political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, "Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization, and the unequal distribution of wealth. Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood." Others include "The Transnational Capital Auction," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq, corporate control of the media, and environmental racism. The theory behind the book is that "teaching math in a neutral manner is not possible." Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics in relation to their students' race, gender, ethnicity, and community.


At 7/20/2005 11:38 PM, Blogger Gary P. said...

BONUS QUESTION for the exam covering Number Theory: How many of these idiots do you need to assemble in one place to get one sensible idea from the lot of them? Start by deriving the largest number known to man and extrapolate outward as necessary. Show all work.

Didn't know you had a math degree. Graduate-level or undergrad?

At 7/21/2005 10:17 AM, Blogger Gary Collard said...

Undergrad, my grad work was in computer science because I did not want to teach, but math was always my first love.


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