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Adding wokeness: Oregon promotes teacher program to subtract ‘racism in mathematics’

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.”

The ODE, led by Colt Gill, confirmed the letter to Fox News. ODE Communications Director Marc Siegel also defended the “Equitable Math” educational program, saying it “helps educators learn key tools for engagement, develop strategies to improve equitable outcomes for Black, Latinx, and multilingual students, and join communities of practice.”

An associated “Dismantling Racism” workbook, linked within the toolkit, similarly identifies “objectivity” — described as “the belief that there is such a thing as being objective or ‘neutral’” — as a characteristic of White supremacy.

Instead of focusing on one right answer, the toolkit encourages teachers to “come up with at least two answers that might solve this problem.” 

It adds: “Challenge standardized test questions by getting the ‘right’ answer, but justify other answers by unpacking the assumptions that are made in the problem.”

It also encourages teachers to “center ethnomathematics,” which includes a variety of guidelines. One of them instructs educators to “identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views.”

The newsletter surfaced amid a broader uproar over critical race theory and diversity training sessions in government entities. For example, a media frenzy erupted last year after a controversial graphic on “whiteness” surfaced from National Museum for African American History and Culture.

The Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC in 2016.
The Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture on the National Mall in Washington, DC, in 2016.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

The museum’s graphic broke the “aspects and assumptions of whiteness” into categories such as “rugged individualism” and “history.” For example, under “future orientation,” the graphic listed “delayed gratification” and planning for the future as ideas spread by White culture.

The training promoted by Oregon references a 2016 workbook titled “Dismantling Racism.” 

“We do not claim to have ‘discovered’ or to ‘own’ the ideas in this workbook any more than Columbus can claim to have discovered or own America,” the workbook reads in one section. 

It’s unclear to what extent, if at all, teachers would be involved with this particular workbook, created by the group DismantlingRacism.org, but it appeared to form part of the foundation for the course’s material.

“The framework for deconstructing racism in mathematics offers essential characteristics of antiracist math educators and critical approaches to dismantling white supremacy in math classrooms by visualizing the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture,” the toolkit reads before linking to both the workbook and a paper on “white supremacy culture.”

The toolkit adds that “building on the framework, teachers engage with critical praxis in order to shift their instructional beliefs and practices toward antiracist math education. By centering antiracism, we model how to be antiracist math educators with accountability.”

In one section of the “Dismantling Racism” workbook, the argument is made that “only white people can be racist in our society, because only white people as a group have that power.” Another section seems to justify anti-cop sentiments

“In some cases, the prejudices of oppressed people (‘you can’t trust the police’) are necessary for survival,” it reads.

That particular workbook seems to take a decidedly anti-capitalist tone as well. 

“We cannot dismantle racism in a system that exploits people for private profit,” it reads. “If we want to dismantle racism, then we must build a movement for economic justice.” One of the graphics includes protesters calling for taxes on corporations. Quotes are also featured from Howard Zinn, a self-described socialist, and Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara, although the quotes are more generally about activism rather than economics.

Anti-racism curricula have received an array of criticism and support.

For example, political scientist Carol M. Swain told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham last week that certain curricula “put forth by Black Lives Matter and being embraced in too many places is really destructive of the Black community and the Black family and racial justice.”

Angela Onwuachi-Willig, an expert on critical race theory at Boston University School of Law, told the Boston Globe that critical race theory helped people understand the complexity of race – beyond “simple” narratives that they may have been taught.

“Racism is not extraordinary,” she continued. “Race and racism are basically baked into everything we do in our society. It’s embedded in our institutions. It’s embedded in our minds and hearts.”

Attorney M.E. Hart, who has conducted these types of training sessions, told The Washington Post that the training helped people live up to “this nation’s promise – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

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