Why Math Is Racist

This is actually a claim that is being made often these days: the sciences in general, and math in particular, are racist. The latest comes from Oregon:

The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently encouraged teachers to register for training that encourages “ethnomathematics” and argues, among other things, that White supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer.

An ODE newsletter sent last week advertises a Feb. 21 “Pathway to Math Equity Micro-Course,” which is designed for middle school teachers to make use of a toolkit for “dismantling racism in mathematics.”

How can mathematics possibly be racist?

Part of the toolkit includes a list of ways “white supremacy culture” allegedly “infiltrates math classrooms.” Those include “the focus is on getting the ‘right’ answer,” students being “required to ‘show their work,'” and other alleged manifestations.

“The concept of mathematics being purely objective is unequivocally false, and teaching it is even much less so,” the document for the “Equitable Math” toolkit reads. “Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict.”

I think that failing to do one’s homework and study for tests is racist. Of course, we all know what groups such attacks on “objectivity” and “getting the right answer” are intended to benefit:

ODE Communications Director Marc Siegel also defended the “Equitable Math” educational program, saying it “helps educators learn key tools for engagement, develop strategies to improve equitable outcomes for Black, Latinx, and multilingual students, and join communities of practice.”

Liberals believe that scientific and mathematical talent are distributed unequally among the races, with Asians being well-endowed in those areas, and blacks below average. Therefore, it is appropriate to discriminate against Asians and to lower standards for blacks–e.g., by pretending that it is unimportant to get the right answer to a math problem.

Are they right? I doubt it. Shelby Steele made the opposite case in an interview in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

[Steele] points to affirmative action and diversity—“the whole movement designed to compensate for the fact that blacks were behind”—and says that blacks today have worse indices relative to whites in education, income levels, marriage and divorce, or “any socioeconomic measure that you want to look at” than they did 60 years ago.

“It’s inconceivable,” says Mr. Steele, “that blacks are competitive in universities today.” In the 1950s, by contrast, they matriculated with slightly lower grade-point averages than whites and graduated with GPAs slightly higher than whites. “Nobody gave them anything,” Mr. Steele affirms. “They didn’t want them in universities then. We would never put our race on an application, because it would be used against us. The minute we started to get all these handouts from guilty America in the civil-rights era, we entered this uninterrupted decline.”

I suppose it would be possible to come up with a better plan to destroy black academic performance than by telling black students not to worry about getting the right answer to a math problem, but I can’t think what it would be.