Canadian Math Education Is Being Bullied By White Privilege

Image result for white privilege

Follow the stale bread crumbs of the Back-To-Basics movement…it will take you to land of angry white folks, mostly males, who are “fed up” with ideas that math education is racist and is now being attended to with deep ideas of equity and play…

I have been waiting patiently for several months to write this article. And, I knew that I would have plenty of ammunition of political malevolence towards math education by this time. As well, having attended and spoken at some of the most important math conferences just a few weeks ago, the pervasive ideas of race and equity would be heavily influencing the tone of this article.

My opening salvo for the politicians and media enablers is actually a math question. Strangely, the debates on math education rarely get distilled down to an actual question in mathematics — and how the approaches to answering them speaks volumes to the thinking(or lack of thinking) regarding the purpose/mission of math education.

The question is 1001 subtract 783.

The first approach, long subtraction, is part of the “standard algorithm” that the Back-To-Basics folks peddle at the Flea Market of Math Education ideas. I tried to keep my writing neat, but the “1001” looks both messy and meaningless. Slashes. Tiny numbers competing for space. And,Borrowing. Aren’t we stealing? The whole process is a mangled mess of memorization and mathematical tomfoolery. Imagine young children being introduced to this sterilized procedure.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. You and I went through it.

So, which one is it Back-To-Basics folks? Are you so blindly in love with the past that cannot see the value of students taking apart a question or adjusting it to make life easier, like in the two solutions to the right of the “standard algorithm”

By the way, “standard” for whom??

If you choose the standard algorithm, then you are handcuffed to a sinking ship of math education. If you side with the other two, then all your huffing and puffing rhetoric has been about being against these ideas.

And, save your breath about playing the political “parent” card. I am a parent of two middle school kids who have only gotten anxiety and boredom from the math education you advocate for.

Yet, this is what some Canadian politicians are blindly, naively, ignorantly, and stupidly promoting. Who $#%@ cares about the answer to 1001–783? I don’t. So, I am going to use a calculator — that every phone has. BUT, if we could mine this question for tactics, strategies, and insights, then students will have the confidence to play and unpack more challenging math questions in the future.

If you give children algorithms and unexplained procedures from the beginning — they won’t have the resolve, resilience, and desire to want anything but the shortcuts. They won’t inherit any valuable mathematical thinking to give our students long term curiosity and aptitude — only short term goals of boosting tests scores for myopic and self-serving politicians.

So what is driving this train wreck? I mean, in this age of total transparency, communication, access to information, and collective excitement for change, who the hell would sign up for the most laughable ideas of math education…?

I will tell you who. People who believe math education should be linked to authoritarianism, performance, testing, performance, testing, performance, status, entitlement, career objectives, and of course, performing standard algorithms — much like how a trained seal spins a ball on its nose.

People who want the status quo. People who are conscious and unconscious recipients of white privilege. There. I said it. I mean how else could you explain the torrid love affair with such brutally boring and assembly-line mathematics like long subtraction and long division?

Who are the two newly elected political leaders of their Provinces up here in Canada who are championing this kind of math education? White Males.

Who are some of the leading math voices who want to race back to the faulty ideas of 20th century math education? White Males.

The only time you hear the phrase “back to basics” is maybe in a sports locker room. You know, when the team is on a horrible losing streak and they need to “perform better” — the coach will say it is time to get “back to basics”…

Here is the distillate. It is all about test scores. Bemoan tests scores. Yearn for higher test scores. Analyze test scores. Eat test scores. Sell test scores.

And, Canada’s most divisive and politically charged math organization, WISE, makes no apologies about having a zealous appetite for test scores and linking them to any newspaper article/journalist that wants to drink the same kool-aid. The best one has to be David Staples out in Edmonton. He is a hockey writer. But, that doesn’t stop him from chiming in aggressively on all things mathematics. Why shouldn’t he, another white male exercising his entitlement and privilege to yammer on about things he has no ideas about.

Educational malpractice? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by that kind of tabloid sensationalism from someone who uses the phrase “Discovery Math” — a term which, along with unicorns and leprechauns, doesn’t exist in real life.

How many white males of privilege does it take to screw in a defective math light bulb? Apparently, quite a few. In fact, when the thin-skinned rebuttals start pouring in, none will be from people of colour or people from marginalized groups of status. They will all be the usual suspects that rally around math education only when fear can be sold cheaply.

These people cannot talk about math education without talking about test scores. It is an impossible task for them. The whole purpose of math education has to follow the trajectory of testing, getting good grades, getting into a good university, getting a good job, and being a passive, obedient consumer.

Have you ever heard the word “equity” come out of the mouths of the Back-To-Basics folks? Nope. Not interested in that. Have you heard the words creativity, curiosity, struggle, resilience, empathy, etc. pepper their discussions on math education.


If you don’t speak in the language of testing, test scores, and long division, you might as well have a third eye on your head. But, these people are clinging on desperately to a world that no longer exists or should exist. Obsolescence is their fate. The Disruption has long started. They have no intention or desire to join the 21st century of learning. It is a place where white privilege is heavily examined and excoriated.

Back-To-Basics might be a big idea in many parts of Canada, but its fraudulence and danger is becoming well known now. I posted a picture of Dr. Nhung Tran-Davies — a medical doctor — and Alberta’s newly elected Premier(who wants high stakes testing installed) on Twitter. 24 hours later, many understood the partnership of status and ignorance in shaping math education.

Now is the time to fight for our Canadian students and teachers. They deserve better than white privilege disguised as stale mathematics.



Author, porous educator, audiophile.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store