Authentic Frontier Gibberish Of The Year: The National Council Of Teachers Of Mathematics

From the website:

What…the HELL…is that supposed to mean? What does it have to do with mathematics? Aside from the part that is basic to all teaching, like paying attention to one’s students,  how does this help students learn math? “Racist and sorting-based mechanisms” are what, grades? Rewarding and recognizing correct answers and techniques over mistakes and confusion? I know mathematicians aren’t known for their facility with language, but was some consultant paid to write this drivel?

Tell me if I’m mistaken, but this reads like a political cult initiation pledge, not legitimate guidance for math teachers. And indeed, that appears to be what it is. The College Fix reports,

A 2018 column in Medium on math equity argues math equity must go beyond classroom teaching strategies. It argued math education is biased in favor of a Western narrative.

“The larger problem is that there are no readily recognizable names of non-white math leaders who are fluent in content and/or pedagogy,” writes Sunil Singh, who goes on to point out most celebrated mathematicians in the classroom are white: Pythagoras. Euclid. Descartes. Gauss. Newton.

“Every student of mathematics will come across the zero and the negative sign,” he states. “Yet, there is very rarely a mention of Brahmagupta in classes.”

“ … Calculus was a monumental achievement and deserves to have authorship recognized with Newton. But more students encounter the work of Brahmagupta than Newton. But, what if it wasn’t Newton that discovered calculus? What if it was Japanese scholar Seki Takakazu? We will never know. But the bigger idea is why couldn’t this be a possibility? Do we not want to be dislodged from the entrenched Western narrative?”

Meanwhile, there have been numerous online sessions and webinars to train teachers to adapt to an equity-based approach to math.

A recent online chat session titled “Diversity & Inclusion: Math ED Spaces” discussed on Twitter looked at a student’s sense of belonging and racial diversity in math education, according to a thread by one of the session’s participants.

“We heard … about creating a sense of belonging for students & teachers of color prompting us to become self-reflective of our work & take action,” tweeted Naomi Jessup, assistant professor of mathematics education at Georgia State University….

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics has also hosted math equity webinars. In one 2018 webinar titled “Developing Social Justice Mathematics Activists in Pre-K-Grade 5,” its online description states that “when paired with issues of fairness, mathematics becomes a social justice tool that empowers students to mathematically recognize and address oppression they see in their own world.”


41 thoughts on “Authentic Frontier Gibberish Of The Year: The National Council Of Teachers Of Mathematics

  1. I thought I’d heard it all. Now maths itself is racist. I don’t know whether to laugh or wander around mindlessly.

    • Did you hear the one about the National Parks? Parks have trees, ly chibgs were done on trees, ergo, parks are racist. I wish I were joking.

  2. My kid is growing up thinking I invented or discovered math because I’m the one that has to teach it to her since the school saw fit to waste a year driveling on about some BS way to think about math.

    All these intellectuals can dream up the most inane way to indoctrinate the next generation, but when we get down to brass tax, people will homeschool their children. Or worse, they’ll teach them everything they need to know over the summer and the kid can spend the school observing teachers spinning their wheels, being inefficient, and thinking that the education system is broken.

      • Ha – I knew I should have looked that up before I tried to use it!

        The phrase get down to brass tacks (not brass tax) is an Americanism dating from the 19th century. In the idiom, brass tacks means (1) the essentials, or (2) the basic facts, so to get down to brass tacks is to focus on the essentials.

  3. If math is taught with a western narrative and that holds back people of color, why are Asians so damn good at it.

  4. This sort of thing is necessary to the socialist utopia progressives wish to bring about. Knowledge is power, and we cannot have the peons accessing ANY power.

    I wish they would at least teach these kids to make change correctly, as the only jobs they will be qualified to hold involve terms like ‘hold the pickles’ and ‘supersize that combo meal.’

    Hey, cash terminals fail and sometimes the fellow at the window has to be able to count…

  5. These days, one might well surmise that any pronouncement from an organization called “The National Council Of Teachers Of… ” can be expected to contain the requisite paean to social justice concepts de jour. Alas, I can only imagine how much more accurate my calculations could have been through the years had I only known who invented the minus sign! Little did I realize that the mathematics patriarchy was helping build the white cis-gendered heterosexual male Christian privilege in which I have basked for most of my life. I suppose I should publicly repudiate Newton’s law of universal gravitation and denounce the study of calculus unless undertaken from a Marxist perspective.
    On second thought, I believe I will just buy some additional mathematics homeschooling materials for my grandson, and maybe double my monthly ammunition order. Oremus pacem para bellum.

  6. This is why we need to abolish the Federal Department of Education. It is the Feds who are giving out grants for this idiotic research.

    In less than 150 years we built the first transcontinental railroad to putting a man on the moon using people trained in traditional methods teaching mathematics. Today, you can not ask just any student to calculate an average, you have to find a math major.

      • Here is a partial list of things I have been told were racist.

        – The Gadsden flag
        – the Betsy Ross flag.
        – criminal background checks by employers (I wonder why these same people do not argue that universal background checks for firearms purchases are racist.)
        – Gibson’s bakery
        – the Covington boys
        – opposing illegal immigration
        – cutting entitlement spending

        At this point, if David Duke were to run for office and defame black people in every campaign speech, not enough people will care.

  7. When we learned calculus we didn’t really spend any time on its origins. We had more important things to do. Like learning calculus.

  8. I take a sort of wry amusement in noting that both the social justice warriors and the white supremacists hold this conceit that sharing the skin color of luminaries like Newton, Gauss, or Euler gives a person some kind of kinship to them. But it’s easy to laugh when some neo-Nazi deadbeat fancies himself in the same class as Einstein, it’s a little more alarming to find such ideas embraced by academia in the name of racial equity.

  9. This is bad writing, but what I think this is trying to convey is that there has been a perception that only boys (and usually white boys from middle or upper class backgrounds) are cut out for advanced mathematics. So, teachers should be aware of that, and try to check their own biases (if present) whenever possible.

    Quick story — now, this is some time ago, so I HOPE that my daughters do not face the same discrimination. I was one of four girls who was placed in an AP Trig/Calc. class in high school. It was not easy to get in. You needed a teacher recommendation, along with completing two previous honors math classes. This class was highly sought after, as it was your ticket to a high SAT score. I was warned by a few seniors that the teacher was an ass and hated girls, but I really didn’t believe them.

    On day 1, the teacher put four slashes on the blackboard. He said this represented the four girls in the class, and that he would erase them one by one when we dropped out. I won’t bore you with the daily insults, yelling, etc. he directed at us, but to sum up, I raised my hand three weeks later and asked him to erase one of those slashes. I transferred to a much friendlier math class just to get away from that man. I had two other friends drop too, but one made it through to the end if I remember correctly.

    • This is bad writing, but what I think this is trying to convey is that there has been a perception that only boys (and usually white boys from middle or upper class backgrounds) are cut out for advanced mathematics. So, teachers should be aware of that, and try to check their own biases (if present) whenever possible.

      So it is a religious homily after all. Well, they could’ve just said so.

      But seriously, it beggars belief that teachers need to “check their biases.” My recollection in math classes of my youth is that the girls tended to do better, at least in the ones I was in, mainly because they took subject matter in general more seriously than boys did.

      In fact, an African-American girl,as I recall, was the best math student in my class. And this was in the early 1970’s. Sure, the African-American boys were usually bad students, but mainly because they refused to show even the slightest interest when they showed up at all.

      And I had one math teacher that tormented everyone equally, white, black, girl, boy… it didn’t matter. If you refused to pay attention in his class, he would embarrass you without bias or remorse. If you fell asleep or disrupted the class, he would… do worse.

      I recall a white guy, [name redacted] who once dared to fall asleep in Mr. Settle’s class. Settle picked up a five-pound dictionary, walked over to the lad’s desk, and dropped it right on the end of it, jarring him awake and making the most appallingly loud noise.

      Needless to say, [name redacted] never went to sleep in that class again. I also recall him throwing an eraser at one of the cheerleaders who was busy talking to her friend rather than paying attention. She got a little dusty…

      Those were the days.

      One thing I have always believed about teaching — it has to be a two-way street. The teacher must agree to teach everyone, and every one of his/her students must agree to learn.

      I don’t believe in trying to teach someone determined not to learn. Which is why, I guess, I could never be a teacher, at least not these days.

      Mr. Settle, God rest his soul, was one of my favorites ever because he forced you to at least look like you were paying attention, and if he questioned you and you hadn’t been, he’d take liberties with your personal pride. He was very effective, and well-loved despite a personality that could only be described as “prickly.” Understandable from a retired Army colonel, I suppose…

      • Our mathematics teacher didn’t hesitate to throw erasers. And they bounced equally off of girls as they did boys.

        I recall one boy reducing the teacher’s yard stick to a 1 and half foot stick with his shoulders when the teacher used it to knock off his clowning.

        • Wow, that’s a little more physical than any of my teachers ever got. Unless, of course, you managed to earn a paddling.

          Mr. Settle almost never had to resort to that. He would use his tongue to slash your soul to ribbons if he called on you and you demonstrated that you had not been paying attention. He wouldn’t do that if you just didn’t get it, he would patiently explain it in detail as many times as it took. And he always knew who was trying but struggling and who was not trying.

          He only threw erasers or dropped heavy books if you were doing something that required him to get your attention, like sleeping or yakking with somebody when you should be trying to learn.

          • The ruler incident occurred but once. And I think if it were any other environment it wouldn’t have happened, BUT, we were in a program that was essentially a “school within a school”. It was about a decade into it’s test run and worked swimmingly. About 200-300 students of all grade levels were organized to have the SAME set of teachers (for the most part) for all 4 years of High School. There was some cross-over as not all teachers taught all grade levels, but for the most part we each saw the same set of teachers at least 75% of the time for our core classes.

            As a natural follow on we all basically had the exact same set of classmates for all 4 years in all our classes as well.

            This led to a really tight knit community of teachers and students.

            The teachers got to know everyone’s individual strengths and weaknesses, gifts and needs.

            They also got to know the class clowns.

            And the parents.

            And this particular kid (the youngest of 4*) happened to have a set of parents who were rather permissive of teachers in discipline, who essentially gave the teachers permission to do what needed to be done.

            Well, he was a class clown. Incessantly.

            The ruler broke.

            It reduced his class clowning by maybe 20%.

            * he was from a family of 2 brothers and 2 sisters. While all four have moved on to being productive and successful members of society, in school the 2 girls were academic super stars while the 2 brothers were, well, clowns.

    • Where was this??? And when???

      When I took AP Trig and Calculus, our class was essentially a 50-50 split boys and girls +/- 10% standard kind of variation there.

      It was highly sought after also…

    • This is one more area where my own peculiar set of experiences led me astray. I was never disciplined enough to grok math, though I didn’t have special trouble with it—it just bored me. My sister, who has pretty much the same skill set I do, was much better at it, so the concept that women were supposed to be handicapped at math and science never crossed my mind, and when I started reading about the issue, it came as a shock. Later, of course, I did witness the biases teachers apply to boys in the classroom, leading us to home school my son.

      That story about the slashed is horrifying (I’m so sorry you had to endure that)….but I also remember one male law professor saying essentially the same thing about the 8 (EIGHT!) women in our 125 student First Year section.

      • I can’t understand that for the life of me. Why would a teacher do that? Is it supposed to be some kind of motivation, like Louis Gossett Jr. in “Officer and a Gentleman” when he said something similar to the one female in the class?

        Or is it just stupidity? Because if it isn’t intended as motivation, there’s just no other explanation.

      • I was going to suggest you talk with your sister! As she is older than me, I’m sure it was even worse for her.

        I won’t lie. My experience affected me greatly at the time and I obviously still think about it to this day. I didn’t go pre-med or the science route in college because I thought I would endure more of the same. I had one female friend in the same class who had to get therapy after she dropped!

        I think it would have been fine if he had just been an ass. But it was my first, up-close experience with a misogynist who was supposed to be teaching/helping/guiding me.

    • Part of this is, almost certainly, just an example of the kind of jargon fever typical of academics with nothing interesting to say. Any hunter-gatherer can tell you not to “use your own watering hole as a latrine”, but it takes an academic to hold a “Seminar on Advancements in Best Practices for Wastewater Handling”. After all, it can’t be very controversial among teachers that it’s a Bad Thing to single out students as unworthy of your class by virtue of their sex or race, as your teacher seems to have done.

      But there’s also more than a hint of the Motte-and-Bailey argument here. Because while the above may not be controversial, the idea that the success of minority math students depends on the study of minority mathematicians seems rather more suspect. After all, as others have noted, the invisibility of certain Asian mathematicians doesn’t seem to have held back Asian-American students.

      Then there’s the third category – being neither uncontroversial concepts poorly expressed nor a poorly supported agenda riding its coattails – the utterly meaningless. What does it mean to “empowers students to mathematically recognize and address oppression”? This is jargon soup, seemingly devoid of any concrete underlying concept.

    • Bad writing, indeed, Sparty.* Could have simply said, “Teachers, don’t be assholes when you’re teaching.” By the way, aside from the poor pay, one of the main reasons I got out of teaching high school was the depressingly poor quality of most career teachers. The few intelligent, motivated teachers were young and usually on into some sort of industry or other job in a year or two or three. The good pros were few and far between.

      *Any writing these days that includes the word “community” is suspect.

  10. What…the HELL…is that supposed to mean?

    Good question. Is this math, or social studies we are talking about?

    Tell me if I’m mistaken, but this reads like a political cult initiation pledge, not legitimate guidance for math teachers.

    I don’t know. As you say, it seems like Authentic Frontier Gibberish. A pledge would at least make sense as such.

    This, in the context of mathematics, is as creepy as a clown at a christening, and makes about as much sense.

    “Social Justice” has become, for all intents and purposes, a religion. This might make sense as a religious homily, but little else.

  11. Meanwhile, in classrooms in India and China, they’re just teaching kids how to fucking do math. Which societies will prosper in the globally-competitive future? The ones who claim that math is racist oppression and demand that teachers spend all their time “examining their pedagogy”, or the ones whose young people can do algebra?

    • Meanwhile, in classrooms in India and China, they’re just teaching kids how to fucking do math. Which societies will prosper in the globally-competitive future?

      Well, ours of course. Because they may not be able to do math, but by God, they’ll be committed to “Social Justice.”

      Of course, the guys who do know math will be able to build better consumer products, better weapons, better… everything.

      But they won’t be “woke,” and we know that’s much more important.

  12. I suspect the reason people know the names like Newton and Pythagoras as opposed Brahmagupta is not for who they were, but the names given after their theories. 0 really isn’t a theory. Brahmagupta has theories, but I doubt most of us will reach that level of math to know them. I learned Newton theories my first semester of Physics (never made it to a second) and Pythagoras (Asquard + Bsquard=Csquard) in my first semester of geometry.

    I’m sure I might have learned about Euclid’s work, but I don’t remember it. I only know it know because I watch a history web series on YouTube called extra credit. I suggest checking it out. It was there I learned that Decartes (who I didn’t know at the time) attempted to solve Euclid’s 5 problem. I have no clue who Gauss isl.

    Brahmagupta theory, if you can understand it, is this: If a cyclic quadrilateral is orthodiagonal (that is, has perpendicular diagonals), then the perpendicular to a side from the point of intersection of the diagonals always bisects the opposite side.

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is math is taught significantly more than Math Theory. I suspect that is the reason we don’t really know famous math people.

    • Exactly,

      And isn’t it a bit presumptive to state that pythogoras was a cis-gendered Greek. How would we know his preferences. That was not taught in my geometry class.

  13. Having been an average to poor math student until I got to algebra, it makes more sense “equity” wise to simply focus on patiently teaching those who struggle while making math interesting.

    A wise teacher discussed the Fibonacci sequence in a way that changed not only my interest in math at school but helped me to see math in nature. He made math real by showing us how it related to so many aspects in life, that I became an solid A math student. It wasn’t because of preaching about racism, it was because he was excited about math and it was contagious. I think if certain students (of color or not) struggle, the best remedy is an engaged teacher, not a woke one.

    Then there’s this whole language around identity. What a person is isn’t always about how they identify. Just because a student is black or Latino or whatever doesn’t mean they wander about identifying as such. Most people just exist and don’t spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about what categories they fit into racially or otherwise. This organization seems more interested in compartmentalizing kids rather than helping them achieve.

  14. The joke is on the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics: Schools, especially grade schools, are moving toward . . . you guessed it . . . . Singapore Math! Take that, Pythagoras!


  15. Years ago, a British Chemistry journal proposed that no secondary school teacher should be allowed to teach math or science. The penalty for doing so should be death. Today’s teachers are too ignorant and biased to teach such subjects effectively. They can’t even have a reasonable discussion about what these subjects are.

    The discovery of calculus is an interesting subject. The idea of inventing calculus is amusing. You DISCOVER calculus, you don’t invent it. Calculus has been discovered many times over the years. Newton is generally credited with discovering calculus because he publicized and spread it. However, we use Leibniz’s notations to do so. Leibniz and Newton are generally thought to have discovered calculus independently at about the same time. When you get to the point that you need calculus, you can discover it. We credit Newton, but use Leibniz. Now, Archimedes also discovered calculus, we just didn’t know it until recently. We use the product of his calculus (the formulas to calculate the volume of spheres and cones), but we didn’t know he used calculus to produce those formulas.

    With items like calculus, we need to give someone credit. We generally give it to the person who discovered it in such a way that it was then transmitted to us. Newton and Leibniz fit the bill, but Newton is better known, so we give him credit. It doesn’t mean that some Aztec didn’t discover it. It doesn’t mean that some Japanese mathematician didn’t discover it in the 5th century. We don’t get our knowledge of calculus from them, we get it from Leibniz and Newton. Our books of science and math are full of white, European males because that is where most of our current science and math came from. The whole world uses the science and math from Europe. They don’t use African science, they don’t use Chinese science, they use European science. To say otherwise is not just historical revisionism, it is a lie.

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