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Math Teachers Group’s Push for Identity Politics Damages Math’s Inherent Equity

By The Daily Signal

The world’s largest math education organization is injecting identity politics where it doesn’t belong—and undermining math education in the process.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics told teachers to “regularly and intentionally integrate more equity, justice, and culturally centered mathematics education” in every math lesson in a May 20 position statement,

The council argues that math education must respond to the “culture” of students, represented in “multidimensional identities,” including “race, ethnicity, religion, generation, gender, sexual orientation, education, class, occupation and socio-economic status, and disability.”

While proper math education, to an extent, can engage with culture, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ position incorporates a facet of culture that doesn’t need to touch math class; namely, identity politics, the idea that people are divided into subgroups based on factors such as race, gender, and sexual orientation.

There is a place in math education for interacting with the cultures of students. Classes that disregard it entirely can become governed by rote memorization, which prevents students from learning to think deeply and analyze context.

Culturally interrelated aspects of math include the history of math discovery and its practical applications, according to Jonathan Gregg, assistant professor of education at Hillsdale College, who holds a doctorate in math education.

Interacting with student thinking and highlighting the multiple ways to reach solutions allow teachers to leverage culture in the classroom, Gregg told The Daily Signal.

Yet the math teachers council advocates for centering math on the wrong aspects of culture.

Math education shouldn’t treat students as divided into identity groups, such as by race and sexual orientation, as the council’s statement recommends.

Teachers can try to understand and connect with their students by allowing them to ask questions and share their ideas, but math itself remains the same.

If teachers focus on “cultural practices” that distract from the subject at hand, a generation of students could graduate with an insufficient understanding of math and underdeveloped problem-solving skills.

“The truth or falsity of a mathematical proposition does not depend on a person’s race, ethnicity, religion, generation, gender, sexual orientation, education, class, occupation, socioeconomic status, or disability,” Hillsdale College Associate Professor of Mathematics David Gaebler told The Daily Signal.

The truth in math is timeless, unchanged by the constantly evolving ideology promoted in the council’s statement. Teachers who “leverage cultural knowledge and lived experiences as assets” as the council recommends in its statement, are powerless to change math’s truths.

The council’s interpretation of “culturally responsive math” could even violate parental rights, as many parents may not want their children to learn about sexual orientation or so-called social justice at school, in math class or elsewhere. (The council did not respond to The Daily Signal’s inquiry about that.)

The statement rejects a “color evasive” approach to math students, seemingly suggesting that educators should adjust their teaching approach on the basis of the student’s race.

Context matters in some math problems, giving it an element of subjectivity, and technical terms of mathematics can have multiple interpretations. Furthermore, some assignments ask questions with multiple answers, like “explain your reasoning” or “justify your answer,” questions that may have multiple right answers, but also wrong ones.

But if teachers fail to recognize math’s objectivity, the subject could forfeit its natural equity.

“If you ignore the objectivity of mathematics,” Gregg said, “you usually miss its connections to truth and (ironically) actually lose one of the ways that it, as a discipline, promotes equity—that it, on some level, is the same for us all and unifies us as human beings.”

Regardless of the color, background, religion, or class of the student solving a math problem, the correct answers are the same, making it equally accessible to all.

School districts, education departments, and teachers across the country have lost sight of this, causing more schools to see education through the lens of identity politics.

For example, Webster Groves School District in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, includes the personal pronouns “they/them” in math problems and employs “math interventionists” to fight so-called racism and gender bias in math classes, The Daily Signal reported.

The Oregon Department of Education instructed teachers to “dismantle systemic inequities” in math class, recommending that teachers reduce rules that “imply that certain skills and knowledge are valued more than others” and instead prioritize the “rights of the learner.”

Good math teachers need to recognize that even though there are usually multiple ways to get to the solution, math has right and wrong answers.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics seems to be on the right track with its desire to include student collaboration in the math classroom. But by instructing its 38,000 members to undermine the objectivity of mathematics, it risks costing students critical logic and reasoning skills—as well as the opportunity to understand what makes math equitable.

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