A mathematics guide sent out to Oregon schools tells educators that asking students to show their work in math class is a form of white supremacy.
In an email sent out by the Oregon Department of Education, teachers were encouraged to enroll in a course called “A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction.” The course came with an 82-page instructional guide that lists the ways in which white supremacy is perpetuated in math class.
“White supremacy culture infiltrates math classrooms in everyday teacher actions,” the guide reads. “Coupled with the beliefs that underlie these actions, they perpetuate educational harm on Black, Latinx, and multilingual students, denying them full access to the world of mathematics.”
The guide offers a year-long framework for “deconstructing racism in mathematics.” It calls for “visibilizing [sic] the toxic characteristics of white supremacy culture with respect to math.”
Examples of classroom actions that allegedly perpetuate white supremacy include asking students to show their work, focusing on getting the right answer, tracking student success, and grading students.
The guide claims that asking students to show their work is “a crutch” for teachers to understand what students are thinking. This is considered white supremacy because it allegedly reinforces “paternalism” and “worship of the written word.” Worship of the written word is an alleged foundation of white supremacy culture, which reinforces documentation and writing skills.
Math classes that focus on helping students get the right answer are also a form of perpetuating white supremacy. The guide claims that calling answers “right and wrong” perpetuates objectivity, which is considered a tenet of white culture.
“The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so,” the guide reads. “Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity.”
Tracking students is considered problematic as well. The guide considers tracking students a form of “paternalism and powerhoarding” as it is based on the idea that adults know what is right for students.
Certain grading practices are also a form of white supremacy, specifically participation grades. According to the organization “Grading for Equity,” which parrots the idea that grading practices reinforce inequity, grading any form of behavior leads to “inaccurate, confusing and even misleading grading.”
Not using “culturally relevant pedagogy” in word problems is considered a form of white supremacy too. According to the guide, it would be a good practice to tell students to “use Ankara fabric to teach mathematical concepts such as tessellations, fractions, area, percentages, etc.” But, if the problem told students to use wood or an object that does not have cultural relevance, this would be considered upholding white supremacy.
To be more culturally inclusive, teachers must “adapt homework policies to fit the needs of students of color.” Teachers are also asked to “identify and challenge the ways that math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views.”
The instructional material also suggests teachers expose students to examples of people who have used math as a form of “resistance.”