Math For Dummies

It is an inconvenient truth that various ethnic groups do not, on average, perform equally well on objective measures of intellectual accomplishment. Mathematics is particularly problematic, in that results are hard to fudge–basically, answers are either right or wrong.

Liberals have responded to this conundrum by dumbing down one discipline after another. Their theory is that if they lower standards far enough, they will arrive at a point where racial and ethnic differences disappear. I doubt that this strategy can ever actually work, but the result in mathematics is especially embarrassing, as the inevitable decline in performance is hard to hide.

But that didn’t deter left-wingers in California, who enacted legislation to turn mathematics into a social justice subject (like everything else). At the Wall Street Journal, Faith Bottum reports:

The California State Board of Education issued on July 12 a new framework for teaching math based on what it calls “updated principles of focus, coherence, and rigor.” The word “updated” is certainly accurate. Not so much “principles,” “focus,” “coherence” or “rigor.” California’s new approach to math is as unfair as it is unserious.

The “framework” runs to around 1,000 pages and is intended to have great influence over the teaching of math for years to come.

The guidelines demand that math teachers be “committed to social justice work” to “equip students with a toolkit and mindset to identify and combat inequities with mathematics”—not with the ability to do math.

The key point, obviously. Emphasis added.

Far more important is teaching students that “mathematics plays a role in the power structures and privileges that exist within our society.”

Mathematics “plays a role” in “power structures and privileges” because ethnic groups do not, on the average, perform equally. How those discrepancies might relate to the number of hours spent doing math homework is a forbidden field of inquiry.

California’s education bureaucrats are seeking to reinvent math as a grievance study. “Big ideas are central to the learning of mathematics,” the framework insists, but the only big idea the document promotes is that unequal outcomes in math performance are proof of a racist society.

QED. But now we get to the real evil of California’s approach:

To achieve equal outcomes, the framework favors the elimination of “tracking,” by which it means the practice of identifying students with the potential to do well. This supposedly damages the mental health of low-achieving students. The problem is that some students simply are better at math than others. To close the gap, the authors of the new framework have decided essentially to eliminate calculus—and to hold talented students back.

The framework recommends that Algebra I not be taught in middle school, which would force the course to be taught in high school. But if the students all take algebra as freshmen, there won’t be time to fit calculus into a four-year high-school program. And that’s the point: The gap between the best and worst math students will become less visible.

Which is all the liberals want: a rock-bottom standard that even students who don’t work hard can meet.

There is much more at the link, which I encourage you to read. I want to add just one more note. Faith Bottum, now an assistant editorial features editor at the Journal, is the daughter of Joseph “Jody” Bottum, perhaps the most interesting person now living in South Dakota. Jody is an old-fashioned intellectual of a high order. We linked to a couple of his essays as far back as 2002, when Power Line was in its infancy. I have been aware of Faith Bottum since she was a precocious college student, and I would have sworn that I linked here to something she wrote years ago, but I can’t find it, so probably my memory is wrong. In any event, she is a tremendously talented chip off the old block. As a native South Dakotan, I am delighted to see it.

Notice: All comments are subject to moderation. Our comments are intended to be a forum for civil discourse bearing on the subject under discussion. Commenters who stray beyond the bounds of civility or employ what we deem gratuitous vulgarity in a comment — including, but not limited to, “s***,” “f***,” “a*******,” or one of their many variants — will be banned without further notice in the sole discretion of the site moderator.