Opposing Anti-Racist Math Education Is Racist and Ignorant of Math History

How many non-white people are questioning anti-racist math education? I would venture to say almost zero. There is a dangerous space of conversation, led by white people, that say we need to critically look at things, adopting the default Platonist view of mathematics — and that it should be looked at first.

In short, that Western perspective, is only one perspective, but has been the dominant one in math education from the get go. So, when discussions start happening about anti-racist math education(ARME), good intentioned math educators feel compelled to man/Eurocentricsplain that there is nothing inherently racist about the way mathematics is being taught. Yup. Starts with the bad optics of white males chiming in, and then it all goes downhill — as they unknowingly provide support for anti-racist math education!

Take for example, this article that was posted by Jonathan Bartlett in the Equity and Social Justice Math Facebook group. Below is an excerpt from that article.

Mathematics gives students practice in core reasoning skills with concrete problems that have definite answers in order to help them achieve mastery of the reasoning process that will allow the skill to be applied later to fuzzier problems where answers are not as certain.

That is the goal.

There are also practical benefits to mathematics — being able to balance your checkbook, make correct change, etc. However, the reason why we continue the mathematics curriculum past basic arithmetic is because we are trying to use mathematics as a foundation for deeper reasoning skills.

That is like the most inert, limiting, Western-biased trajectory of mathematics that one could say. I love the “That is the goal” — the cherry on top of this inadvertent nod to narrow-minded ideas of math education.

Here is another article. Color me not surprised, but another white male, drunk on ivory tower elitism, trying to write a balanced piece with heavily imbalanced ideas. Another winner from the education Gulag of 20th century mindset.

There is just a skewed and unhealthy idea that math’s primary purpose is rooted in functioning externally in society — from anything from balancing a checkbook to finding one’s career aspirations in numbers. It is in this flea market of the performance culture that we find the seeds of the abhorrent attacks on anti-racist math education. Levering their math knowledge, whiteness, and privilege, they can write the laziest and most uniformed pieces without even thinking they are utterly lost in this discussion.

By clinging to the Western bias of mathematics’ main purpose, high profile writers, academics, and politicians, have all taken, what they believe, is their rightful swing at anything which undermines the “truth” about mathematics — that a subject based on objectivity cannot be infiltrated with bias, prejudice, and racism.

And, let’s not forget another group of folks. Just because you were a former student of mathematics, doesn’t mean you have the ability or understanding to chime in on math education. Unfortunately, that is the low-bar that many believe is a respectable entry point into the complex conversation about racism in mathematics.

However, one’s entry point into this conversation will quickly reveal who is racist or not. If you were hearing “Anti-Racist Math Education” for the first time, your initial response might clearly show your true stripes and your true motives. Would you be intellectually curious? Would you find affirmation that hope, healing, and humanity are now permeating the historically elitist subject of mathematics? Or, would you provide a knee-jerk reaction rooted in doubt, and do everything you can to find “evidence” to snuff out its existence?

The objectors to ARME actually have a bigger problem than their academically-coded racism. Many are woefully ignorant of math history. They wouldn’t have a clue to tracing the trajectory of the thematic development of mathematics through every race, culture, and civilization. They wouldn’t know that the Fibonacci sequence(2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, etc.) was discovered hundreds of years earlier by Sanskrit poets. They wouldn’t know the current use of a number like zero is faulty and confusing — zero was supposed to the lowest number according to the sutras of Brahmagupta. They wouldn’t know that the fractal antenna makes cell phones possible, is actually an indigenous design of Africa that goes back 500 years.

The people who decry ARME see mathematics through a tiny, cloudy lens — as an inert subject that is all about getting the right answer, so you can get the right job. It’s about as dehumanizing and demoralizing a compass you could find to navigate your shallow arguments. This is how you are selling mathematics to the world and to yourself? Surely you have read Death of Salesman?

Ramanujan studied mathematics for beauty and spiritual connection. I didn’t find that purpose on Jonathan Barlett’s list. Ramanujan is one of the greatest mathematicians in history, but Bartlett is at least ignorant of Ramanujan’s religious/social background to dismiss purposes of math education beyond robotic functioning for society.

To anchor the purpose of studying mathematics to an external output dictated by a consumer society is not a good place to draw out your rusty, 2-inch knife.

Mathematics was never racist. But, white people have made it racist by shading global contributions, multi-racial/multi-cultural beauty, and higher, personal purpose to the margins, As such, there is a moral imperative to make it anti-racist.

If mathematics was dropped off in a test tube by aliens on a beach one hundred years ago, the idea of mathematics being racist is impossible could have some merit. Since it is a human construct, linked inextricably to our identity, it has the potential to be misused and mischaracterized by those in power to serve and affirm their power.

People who are crying foul over ARME are the laggards in this conversation. They not only lack the mathematical chops, but they are generally dialing in their arguments on a rotary dial phone. Don’t pretend to be wanting to be allies here. Your pausing and manufacturing pushback in the name of critical analysis is a bit unsettling.

So sorry, you got the wrong number. You should have dialed the 20th century.

Anti-Racist Math Education is inextricably linked to Math History which is woven with Storytelling from all races, cultures, civilizations, and tribes.

Your opposition to it might indicate that you are missing a soul. And really, that’s what it kind of gets boiled down to. Engaging in chess like discussions about this are kind of fruitless.

Do you want to hear the stories of mathematics and your students? Answering no is morally unacceptable. Answering no is giving space and oxygen for racism in math education.

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