USA Today touched off a torrential backlash by posting an article asking, “Is Math Racist?”
The original headline for the article, which is behind a paywall, asked, “Is math racist? As many students of color struggle with the subject, schools are altering instruction – sometimes amid intense debate.” The newspaper later changed the headline to: “Is math education racist? Debate rages over changes to how US teaches the subject.”
The article purports to show how black students struggle with math and highlights “bolder recommendations to make math more inclusive.”
“The pandemic has exacerbated inequities in math, with students in predominantly [b]lack schools losing about two more months of math learning in 2020-21 compared with students attending white-majority schools,” USA Today tweeted. “But traditionalists who shun the new approach say it effectively dumbs down math education. They say pure math inquiry should be neutral of politics. And students gifted in math should be allowed to advance faster than their peers.”
But traditionalists who shun the new approach say it effectively dumbs down math education. They say pure math inquiry should be neutral of politics. And students gifted in math should be allowed to advance faster than their peers. https://t.co/KblviXsyuR
— USA TODAY (@USATODAY) December 7, 2021
“No, math is not racist. Major venues like @USATODAY even asking this question is a sign of cultural sickness,” replied Portland State University professor Peter Boghossian. “Racial disparities can be addressed (in part) by using the best evidence-based pedagogical practices that enable student learning. Please stop suggesting math is racist.”
Many others shared his outrage at the headline.
“This seems more like political advocacy than news reportage,” observed one poster. Schools could effect higher math scores if they “spend more time teaching fractions & STOP teaching revisionist history,” wrote one individual. “Meanwhile China is building hypersonic missiles,” replied another. Yet another predicted, “Pretty soon they will just say school itself is racist and everyone gets an A.” Free-market economist and professor Daniel LaCalle simply asked, “Is this a joke?”
Is this a joke? pic.twitter.com/02DH4I4MrV
— Daniel Lacalle (@dlacalle_IA) December 8, 2021
Yet USA Today was not alone in asking if the universally applicable laws of mathematics secretly convey racial bias. On Wednesday, The Washington Post printed an article titled “Racism in our curriculums isn’t limited to history. It’s in math, too.”
Math “is perceived, incorrectly, as a neutral space outside the reach of structural racism and national histories,” wrote Theodore Kim, an associate professor of computer science at Yale University. He added, without evidence, that a theorem known as the “Chinese Remainder Theorem” may have been affected by anti-Asian sentiments from decades before the theorem was popularized.
Educators have also tried to portray math as biased against minorities. As The Daily Wire reported, last February:
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.”
Part of the course’s “toolkit” claimed that math instruction may be racist, because its “focus is on getting the ‘right’ answer.” Asking students to show their work was also said to be a form of white supremacy.
The Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, California, also taught a workshop in June on “Mathematics and Racial Justice,” which promised to “explore the role that mathematics plays in today’s movement for racial justice.”
Despite allegations that math has built white supremacy into its algorithm, Asians score the highest on the SAT’s mathematics test. Asian students’ average math score is 632 out of 800, compared to 547 for white students, 478 for Hispanics, and 454 for black students, according to the Brookings Institution.
USA Today has lost 62% of its print circulation since the beginning of 2020, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.