Math meritocracy is “tool of whiteness”?


Once again we have a professor saying something ridiculous and getting press coverage, but once again the real detail is being missed:

Professor claims ‘meritocracy’ in math class is a ‘tool of whiteness’: report

Now, I’m citing Fox News above, a widely reviled news source. As per Wikileaks, it is one of the very few large audience news outlets that shouldn’t be viewed as completely fraudulent. I concede they’re not very good but they do look good on the curve, at least. They manage to screw up the news here right away:

“A math professor at Brooklyn College wrote…”

A math professor? Oh really? The professor being referenced here is Laurie Rubel. Let’s take a look at what she’s teaching:

Before coming to teach in Brooklyn College’s mathematics education program…

She’s a teacher of math education. Her Ph.D. is also in Math Education. She publishes in Math Education. It really, really, drives me nuts that we have these people, these Educationists, posing as scholars in different fields. I’ve written extensively of the fraud, and it simply drives me nuts that time and again these people continue to represent themselves as something they are, most definitely, not. It’s infuriating.

Ok, just because she’s been misrepresented here, it may not be her fault (it’s Fox News, after all), and even though her Ph.D. isn’t in mathematics, I’m still quite willing to hear what she has to say about mathematics. Of course, she’s not talking about mathematics, she’s talking about identity politics.

Rubel reportedly recommended that math teachers use more social justice issues during lessons. Rubel, however, warned that teaching “social justice” can also be a tool of whiteness if teachers are ignorant to the experiences of their minority students…

I should point out that this professor has won some pretty hefty awards for believing in these things. I tend to disagree with such beliefs, of course, and I want to point out a big difference between disagreement here as opposed to disagreement in an academic field. It’s always puzzling when I hear Educationists make these kinds of statements to explain why “minorities” don’t do well in math class, as though Whiteness is the problem. China has plenty of people who are not white, and yet do fine in mathematics, after all.

Anyway, the difference between academics and Education is I can actually formulate an argument explaining why the professor is wrong, whereas the Educationist simply just says stuff without justification. Let’s take an example:

Rubel wrote that math teachers who claim to be color-blind are not doing the minority students any favors.

Please understand the teacher here is really addressing fairly basic mathematics, not advanced, esoteric topics she neither teaches nor researches in.

I’m pretty color blind about “2 + 2 = 4” and other basic mathematical ideas because none of the mathematics makes an assumption about the color of the skin of the person making the calculation. The burden is on her to show me in the definitions where such assumptions exist, because I know no skin-color-related definitions are in mathematics.

As far as “doing the minority students any favors” goes, I maintain that mathematics is not under any obligation to do any students, minority or otherwise, any favors under any circumstances. I again put the burden on her to show where mathematics makes any such claim.

Now, I grant a Fox News article isn’t going to show her full arguments, just her (odd) conclusions but as luck would have it, her whole research paper is online.

Equity-Directed Instructional Practices: Beyond the Dominant Perspective

This research is published in the Journal of Urban Mathematics. I’m still scratching my head over the title of this journal; I know I don’t know all mathematics, but can’t hazard a guess what “urban” mathematics could be. To the best of my understanding, mathematics is the same whether you’re in a rural or urban or cosmopolitan setting…even in outer space, mathematics doesn’t change.

One of my many issues with Education as a field is how they’ve isolated themselves from academia. Their students don’t take math courses taught by mathematicians, instead Education students take Math for Education courses, taught by Education professors. Similarly, they take Art for Education majors, Chemistry for Education majors, and so on. It’s bizarre that what are general academic topics for the rest of humanity are “specialized” for Educationists. Perhaps this weird education is why these people never consider China in their thinking, since they’re unaware it even exists?

Now, journals absolutely tend to be specialized, but I can’t help but suspect this isn’t so much a research journal as an Identity Politics journal, where any article that simply supports the narrative (such as the famous Penises Cause Global Warming research) gets publication.

With her paper freely available, I can see with my own eyes what her arguments are regarding her claims. It’s a 40 page paper, so it’s good that it starts with a summary:

In this article, the author synthesizes four equity-directed instructional practices: standards-based mathematics instruction, complex instruction, culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP), and teaching mathematics for social justice (TMfSJ).

Oh no, “teaching mathematics for social justice”? If there was even remote doubt that we’re dealing with a Social Justice Warrior here, it’s gone in the first sentence.

I foreground “race” in this literature review because of the significance of whiteness in the United States in reproducing subordination and widening society’s opportunity gaps in and through mathematics education…

While the professor does cite her sources for the above, I’m still puzzled at why the research always forgets about Asians; many Asian groups have come to this country and done quite well. Again, this mountain of empirical evidence destroys the “it’s white people’s fault” narrative, and so is simply ignored. (But if anyone knows an argument or research explaining it, feel free to comment below.)

More generally, whiteness tacitly positions White people, their experiences, and their behaviors as superior…

There are many statements like the above, and while it is cited, it’s not at all clear what any of this has to do with mathematics, or student success. In any event, there is extensive discussion and review of literature before getting to the research, which is statistics based. I note her sample size is 12 (or “N = 12,” as they say in statistics).

Hey, anyone else remember that “horrible” Wakefield study relating vaccines and autism? It was considered complete garbage because of the small sample size. Guess what it was? That’s right, 12. Such a small sample doesn’t actually destroy a study, it just means it should be viewed as preliminary. But I digress.

In any event, the vast results of the statistics here are based on qualitative interpretations of what’s going on in the classroom. There are, of course, no controls, either. As such, there’s no way to put any stock in any of the results. You can pretty much get any result you want from this kind of study, which is little more than a collection of case studies; I’m more than a little puzzled at the long preamble at the beginning of this research. I honestly thought something was going to be shown here, but…no dice.

Whiteness as blinding. Mary and Molly avoided addressing issues of power and social justice in the content of their mathematics lessons, even though…

Even in the case studies, there’s a theme here that is unpleasant. Instead of commending teachers for sticking to mathematics in their mathematics classes, there’s chastisement for not spending time on social justice. What’s up with that?

Getting back to the point: we as a nation are pouring huge sums of money into this “research,” and calling it “mathematical research.” We really need to stop doing that, and seeing as the main source of that money is the student loan scam, shutting that down would be a fine place to start.