Revised California Math Curriculum Still Emphasizes Woke Politics

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Though it has lost the explicit progressivism that received nationwide attention in 2021, the finalized framework isn’t much better.

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Though it has lost the explicit progressivism that received nationwide attention in 2021, the finalized framework isn’t much better.

I comment on education policy for a living, and school closures notwithstanding, it is hard for me to think of a school policy of more wide-ranging mediocrity and damaging counterproductivity than California’s adoption of a new mathematical framework. Last week, the California State Board of Education voted to adopt the new curricular standards for the 2023 school year.

The chief deputy superintendent, Mary Nicely, praised the “rigorous” and “high quality math instruction” that this framework will supposedly foster. In reality, it is little more than a galling example of the overt inclusion of progressive politics into the classroom. It is, in effect, a curriculum that removes math from math class.

The story begins in 2021, when California first introduced a revised framework and curriculum for the state. Public reaction was apoplectic — and rightly so. An open letter from the Independent Institute signed by over a thousand math professionals (most of them university professors) called it an attempt “to build a mathless Brave New World on a foundation of unsound ideology.” Another petition drew 6,000 signatories in opposition to the framework’s suggestion that districts remove advanced math classes. No student should take Algebra 1 early, but equity will be achieved when all are held back equally.

Excerpts confound belief. “A color-blind [teaching approach] allows systemic inequities to continue,” the authors contend, and it’s a teacher’s job to develop a “sociopolitical consciousness” in their students. To do so, math teachers must reject “whiteness” and inject “social justice” into their teaching. It reads less like a pedagogical framework or academic curriculum and more like a political manifesto.

The original draft included many vignettes about what such instruction would look like in practice. Consider a class where the teacher compared word problems in the textbook to the novel George about a transgender child. Students were to spend time discussing “what constitutes boys things and girl things” or “how gender played out in the problem” — all this in a math class.

For the third draft, the authors set aside their punch and restrained their language. Even so, the framework exhorts educators to “teach toward social justice.” Vignettes tell of students spending math classes analyzing “living wages,” “cyberbullying,” and “environmental justice.” Teachers must not forget to “focus on complex feelings” in their math classes, since feelings are a “part of mathematics sense-making.” The velocity has slowed in the final draft, but the direction is the same: Math class is a space for politics.

This framework is but the largest example of a nationwide trend. Seattle’s mathematics framework focuses on themes such as identity, oppression, and liberation. It asks questions such as “how important is it to be right?” and “how can we use math to measure the impact of activism?” A school district in Missouri placed “they/them” pronouns in worksheets to help students develop their “mathematical identities.” Oregon encouraged teachers to attend a seminar on “ethnomathematics” to help teachers disrupt elements of “white supremacy culture” in their classrooms — such as the emphasis on finding the right answer.

As I’ve argued in National Review before, this framework is an example of “systemic wokeness” in American education. The rapid politicization of our schools is not the work of a few rogue teachers treating their lectern like an ideological pulpit. Rather, the predominant philosophy of education in our schools — and more importantly, our teacher-prep programs — is one that views schools not as academic training centers, traditionally understood, but the very loci of societal change. The goal is not even to prepare students for advocacy in the future but encourage their participation in it now.

Of course, the real losers in all of this are the students. The framework’s rhetoric is heavy on California’s dismal state of math achievement compared with the nation and the need for increased rigor. If that were truly the goal — to prepare students for careers as engineers with exacting standards or even basic mental math for a server’s tip — I’d be the first in line to cheer it on. Instead, it’s providing students a heavy dose of ideology and none of the academic skills or knowledge they need.

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