Guest Column: Mathematics As Indoctrination

Racism mathematics

by Mrs. Q

[This, a comment in last Friday’s Open Forum, which followed upon Steve Witherspoon’s directing our horrified gaze to Oregon’ teaching program that seeks to undo ‘racism in mathematics.’ The links are here, the here, and here, is presented as a Guest Column, not Mrs. Q’s first.]

This reminds me of Erika Mann’s discussion of mathematics education (Völkisches Rechnen or people’s arithmetic) under Nazi rule in the 1930’s, in her book School for Barbarians. Here’s an example (page 67):

An airplane flies at the rate of 240 kilometers per hour to a place at a distance if 210 kilometers in order to drop bombs. When may it be expected to return if the dropping of bombs takes 7.5 minutes?
-From National Political Practice in Arithmetic Lessons.

A question like this may not initially point to a scholastic propaganda problem until the other questions come into play, questions like:

  • “What was Germany’s population loss due to the Versailles Treaty?” What is the load capacity of four gas bombs?”
  • ” How many people can fit into a bomb shelter?”
  • “What percentage of the German population is home to “alien” Jews?”

It suddenly becomes more clear that these questions are preparing these kids for war…and compliance with the state.

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Ethics Movies: And Speaking Of Conspiracies, Have You Seen “Conspiracy”? Do.

Conspiracy

I bet you haven’t. I hadn’t, and stumbling upon it yesterday on Amazon’s streaming service was one more reason I failed to get an ethics warm-up posted, but it was worth it.

“Conspiracy” is a remarkable HBO film that first ran in 2001, when my attention, and probably yours, was elsewhere. I never have read or heard a word about the film; no friend ever recommended it to me or my wife, who is a WWII buff. Nobody mentioned if on Facebook. (There it is! Finally a downside of ignoring the Emmys and Golden Globe Awards! The film was much honored.) I can’t believe that “Conspiracy” had a large audience: it’s a movie about a meeting, albeit a real one, and consists almost entirely of men sitting around a table, talking. (So does “Twelve Angry Men,” but “Conspiracy” makes that film look like “Die Hard” as far as action is concerned.) No women. No “persons of color.” This is because all of the attendees at the actual meeting were Nazi officers and officials, but never mind: if “Conspiracy” were made today, Adolf Eichmann would have to be played by Ice-T and Reinhard Heydrich by Jennifer Lopez because of Hollywood’s diversity rules.

I wish I were kidding.

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Remember Kristallnacht, And Why Should I Even Have To Write That?

kristallnacht

On November 9, 1938, in an event that we now recognize as the beginning of the Holocaust, Hitler’s  Nazis began their campaign of terror against Jewish people by destroying their homes and businesses in Germany and Austria. The violence, which continued through November 10 and was later dubbed “Kristallnacht,” or “Night of Broken Glass,” left approximately 100 Jews dead, 7,500 Jewish businesses damaged and hundreds of synagogues, homes, schools and graveyards vandalized. About 30,000 Jewish men were arrested, with many of them sent to concentration camps for several months until they promised to leave Germany.

The November 7 murder of a German diplomat in Paris by a 17-year-old Polish Jew became the provocation for the Kristallnacht attacks. On, 1938, Following the episode, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels ordered German storm troopers to carry out “spontaneous demonstrations” against Jewish citizens, with local police and fire departments ordered not to interfere. Terrified by the sudden outpouring of official hate, some Jews, including entire families, committed suicide.

In a clear demonstration of the state of German ethics and justice at the time, Nazis blamed their Jewish victims for Kristallnacht and fined them 1 billion marks (or $400 million in 1938 dollars) for the low-level diplomat’s  death. This allowed the government to seize Jewish property and any insurance money owed to Jewish people for the destruction. The Nazis then enacted policies and laws that excluded Jews from all aspects of public life.

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Comment Of The Day: “Open Forum” (Catholic Church Thread)

This seems like a nice, fraught time to post A. M. Golden’s comment in the last Open Forum, especially since he broaches the controversy over the Roman Catholic Church’s relationship with Nazi Germany and its efforts (or lack of them?) in support of Jews during the Holocaust.

Here is A.M.s Comment of the Day:

The Catholic Church signed a Concordant with the German government agreeing not to get involved in politics (something I’m sure every progressive in the U.S. has wanted for years and would heartily endorse) in return for the Germans agreeing not to interfere with the Catholic instruction of youth. This was an agreement that the Nazis grudgingly complied with for a limited time before finally interfering whenever they wanted.

Yet…the Catholics objected to converted Jews being discriminated against because the Nazi racial theories still considered them biologically Jews regardless of their religious persuasion. Many German Protestants had the same concern. There were also many who risked their lives to save Jews due to their religious convictions – spurred by their minister or priest’s teaching.

There were ministers and priests that preached against the T4 Aktion – the Nazi euthanasia program – that killed mentally and physically disabled children and adults. Continue reading

Fire Lisa Mars

I usually hesitate to call for anyone to be fired, though there have been exceptions. In this case, however, the call is mandatory on ethical grounds. It is unethical for a school dedicated to the arts to hand oversight to an gross incompetent who doesn’t comprehend the arts she is supposedly responsible for teaching; it is unethical for someone to take on this responsibility who is wildly unqualified for the job; and it is unethical for that individual to act in a way that undermines the mission of the school she heads.

I have just fairly described Lisa Mars, currently the principal at the Fiorello LaGuardia High School, the high school “of music, arts the performing arts” made famous in the movie and TV show, “Fame.”

On opening night of a school production of “The Sound of Music,” she ordered all Nazi-themed props and set pieces struck. They are offensive, you see. Never mind that the show is set during Germany’s take-over of Austria as the Third Reich was expanding. Never mind that Nazi Germany and its officers are major elements in the plot, or that the plot is based on the real-life escape of the singing Von Trapp family from the Nazis. Never mind that theater is a representational art form. Stage deaths are not real killings, stage rape isn’t really rape, stage racism isn’t really racism, and stage representations of Nazi symbols do not promote fascism. Most grade-school actors can grasp this basic principle, but not the head of a school for the performing arts.

“This is a very liberal school, we’re all against Nazis,” one sophomore said. “But to take out the symbol is to try to erase history.” Yes, that too. “Obviously the symbols are offensive,” he added. “But in context, they are supposed to be.”

Make him principal. Continue reading

November 9-10, Kristallnacht, And The Duty To Remember

Auschwitz

This is the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9-10, 1938. Had you forgotten? Did you even know? If you weren’t looking in the right places, it would be very easy to miss the fact that these are days to remember—that we have a duty to remember.

In 2009, citing the cultural importance of another date in November, one that is going to be much commemorated this year (being the 50th anniversary) but that was barely noted four years ago, I said…

“Apart from national holidays, there are not an overwhelming number of calendar boxes that citizens of the United States should pause and think about every year. July 4. September 11. December 7, when America was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor. June 6, D-Day. We can argue about others, but there should be no argument about November 22. It was a sudden, unexpected tragedy that scarred a generation, and it changed the course of  national and world history in many ways.

“Year after year, Americans know less and less about their own country. This makes us incompetent in our civic duties, infantile in our understanding of America’s role in the world, stupid and apathetic on election day, and patsies for our supposed elected officials, who can tell us lies about our country’s mission and heritage as we stand nodding like cows. Most of all, it makes us disrespectful of the brave and brilliant men and women who built, sustained and defined the United States. College graduates go on “The Jay Leno Show” and shamelessly identify the faces on Mount Rushmore as the Marx Brothers or the Beatles, and giggle about it as Jay rolls his eyes. This is becoming the standard level of American appreciation of the nation’s past.”

In holding close critical events affecting the rest of the world, we are even worse, as the overwhelming ignorance of this date shows. If July 4, 1776; September 11, 2001; December 7, 1941, and November 22, 1963, are moments in history that all of us should remember, honor and think about because we are Americans, November 9 and 10th present the same obligations because we are human beings, and citizens of the world. Continue reading

Richard Cohen, National Interests, and the Ethical Duties of the US to the World

There used to be no columnist who infuriated me more consistently than Richard Cohen. Those were the hazy, golden days before I discovered E.J. Dionne, Paul Krugman and Harold Mayerson, however, whose rigid ideology virtually precludes objective analysis. Cohen isn’t biased, he’s just wrong more often than not. But he is also capable of bursts of moral and ethical clarity. Today was an example, as he took on the isolationist voices on the left and the right that make up a large component, if not the majority, of our elected leadership today.

Cohen begins by recounting a section from  Erik Larson ‘s book,“In the Garden of the Beasts,” about how the American foreign policy establishment in the Thirties resisted efforts by William Dodd, then ambassador to Germany, to protest the Hitler government’s increasing persecution of Jews. Humanity, and the U.S., paid a steep price for its inward-turning perspective after World War I, as we abdicated our traditional role as defender of liberty, freedom, democracy and human rights on the world stage. Continue reading