A University of Illinois professor who teaches curriculum and instruction apparently sincerely holds the belief that math, algebra, and geometry promote white privilege. Ian Miles Cheong over at the Daily Caller writes about the latest lobotomized liberal to show an astonishing lack of sense at an institute of higher learning.
Rachel Gutierrez believes that math stands in the way of social justice. Math, one of the most pure sciences fails poor students of color because it is taught by people holding a “deficit view” of minority students. In other words, she’s a social justice warrior mad at numbers. Bless her heart.
First let’s dispel any notion of mathematics being the domain of white people. Prehistoric people knew how to count physical objects, and the Lebombo bone of ancient Africa suggests they have may conceptualized counting abstract objects as well. The Egyptians and Babylonians — civilizations that were not white people — first began using what can be recognized as modern arithmetic, algebra, and geometry 5,000 years ago. The Greeks developed a systemic study of mathematics 2,500 years later. Persian — not white — mathematicians extended that work a thousand years later.
The Mayans and other Mesoamerican cultures — not white, seeing a trend? — developed a base 20 number system and applied use of mathematics in astronomy. Chinese mathematics — again, not white — developed concurrently but independently of the early Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek achievements, and even surpassing them as these civilizations declined.
Gutierrez’s argument seems to be flimsily built on the premise that because we use Greek symbols in higher math, and theorems such as the Pythagorean theorem are naked after Greeks, that the concepts represented are somehow less accessible to people who are not white. Logic is clearly not her strong suit.
She bemoans the fact that the ubiquitous nature of math in the modern world gives an “unearned privilege” to those who have mathematical competency. Setting aside the entire specious concept of “unearned privilege,” the reality is that mathematics is embedded in nearly everything that we do. It’s not just rocket science anymore.
Assertions that students are somehow othered and suffer microaggressions — don’t even get me started — if they are perceived to not be mathematical is classic liberal victimology.
Rather than focusing on the “identity politics” of math, as an alleged expert on instruction Guiterrez should be worked to support the ongoing efforts of advocacy organization working to bring STEM to elementary school students, particularly to girls and minority students who are far more likely to succumb to the false idea that math is simply too hard for them, an idea disabused in a 2013 article in The Atlantic.
Math built the pyramids; in Egypt, and for the Mayan people. Geometry and math built Stonehenge. Astrological calendars required the geometric concepts of angles and degrees of a circle.
The false dichotomy of students who use math and students who don’t needs to be washed away.
Fine arts students use math. Music has meter. Sculptors must understand volume and phsyics, both relying on mathematical concepts. Theater students use geometric concepts of stage blocking, lighting design, and more.
Students of sociology, anthropology, biology, and nearly every other field of study relies on statistics and all the sigmas, regressions, and other mathematical models used to find causation, and not just correlation.
All students need to be thoroughly exposed to math, algebra, and geometry. Professions of today and even more of tomorrow will require math skills as a foundational element of the body of knowledge required to succeed.
What students don’t need is spurious assertions that math is white, that pi is privilege, or that radii are racist.