Culture

Social-Justice Math Class: ‘Math Has Been Used as a Dehumanizing Tool’

(Photo: Andrey Popov/Dreamstime)
‘Teaching Social Justice Through Secondary Mathematics’ was developed by Teach for America.

A new online course instructs math teachers how to incorporate social-justice ideology into their lessons by discussing how mathematics has historically been used to oppress people.

The class — titled “Teaching Social Justice Through Secondary Mathematics” — was developed by Teach for America and is being offered through edX, according to an article in Campus Reform.

“Do you ask students to think deeply about global and local social justice issues within your mathematics classroom?” the course overview asks. “This education and teacher training course will help you blend secondary math instruction with topics such as inequity, poverty, and privilege to transform students into global thinkers and mathematicians.”

The idea behind the class is that many students are into the whole social-justice thing and that “setting the mathematics within a specially-developed social justice framework can help students realize the power and meaning of both the data and social justice concerns.”

According to Campus Reform, the class identifies five principles of “intersectional mathematics,” including “mathematical ethics:”

Mathematical ethics recognizes that, for centuries, mathematics has been used as a dehumanizing tool. Does one’s IQ fall on the lower half of the bell curve? Mathematics tells us that individual is intellectually lacking. Mathematics formulae also differentiate between the classifications of a war or a genocide and have even been used to trick indigenous people out of land and property.

Now, I personally never enjoyed math in school. In fact, in first grade, I got into huge trouble for standing on a chair and starting a “No More Math! No More Math!” chant in the classroom. Honestly, I just wish I had had access to this information at the time. My “No More Math!” chant landed me in the principal’s office, but perhaps if I had tweaked it a little bit to, say, “For Centuries, Mathematics Has Been Used as a Dehumanizing Tool!” I may have had more success.

This is, of course, a ridiculous way to approach teaching. I mean, what’s next? Language teachers beginning their classes by saying “Now, just so you know, this same language I am teaching you does in fact have words in it that people have used to hurt other people”?  Ugh — I really hope I didn’t just give anyone any ideas.”

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