2+2 = White Privilege

Math and social justice don't add up.

In the end, the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. – George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

It’s no secret that leftist educators have utterly ruined the fields of the humanities with their Marxist wokeness, postmodern deconstructionism, and openly anti-Western bias. Now The College Fix reports that educators are increasingly imposing a social justice agenda in at least one field that you might expect would be free from any sort of ideological perspective: mathematics.

Math is often referred to as a universal language because its principles are universally true. Theorems and formulas are equally valid in America and China and Zimbabwe, and equally apolitical. Nothing seems more politically incorruptible than a math equation. What policy is there to debate in 2+2 = 4? How can one take sides over the fact that the area of a rectangle equals its length multiplied by its width? But for the social justice Left, politics is, or should be, as omnipresent as God. No corner of the universe may remain unilluminated in their quest to overturn the flawed existing order, free the oppressed, and rebuild the world according to their utopian vision. There can be no topic of discussion or field of endeavor in which politics is absent or in which neutrality and objective truth reign.

Mathematics is no exception. Having successfully reduced other pursuits of knowledge from the search for the true, the good, and the beautiful to the subversion of the true, the good, and the beautiful, the relentless Left is now taking aim at the methodological bias supposedly inherent in our Eurocentric (read: racist and colonialist) understanding of math. The goal is “math equity,” because there is no more unforgivable iniquity for the Left than, well, inequity.

On one level, discussions of math equity among educators often center on the admirable aim of ensuring that all students have equal opportunities to succeed at math. This obviously involves questions of pedagogy and issues like classroom size. But as the website for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) states, “Equity-based mathematics teaching requires more than implementing new curriculum or using specific practices because it involves taking a stand for what is right.” In other words, it involves an injection of Progressive activism in issues of race, gender, and class (in the Marxist sense), because for the Left it is critical that all education be reduced to indoctrination along these lines.

The online description of one 2018 webinar hosted by the NCTM titled “Developing Social Justice Mathematics Activists in Pre-K-Grade 5” 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.” One educator tweeted, “Teaching math for social justice – this paper shares the process of analyzing school math curriculum as an entryway to engage elementary age students’ awareness around the hidden curriculum, transphobia, and genderism.” And the NCTM website notes that math equity “requires mathematics teachers to reflect on their own identity, positions, and beliefs in regards to racist and sorting-based mechanisms.”

What does math have to do with one’s “identity”? What a naïve question. For the left, everything revolves around identity – math too, because as educator José Vilson writing at QED declares, “math as a subject still centers whiteness as a marker for success,” whatever that means. He doesn’t need to elaborate because it goes without saying today that “whiteness” is a systemic evil that must be deconstructed and relegated to the dustbin of history.

“Math was never neutral,” Vilson continues. “Math as a subject area is a reflection of the values and stories propagated by a given educational system’s architects.” This may come as a surprise to those who foolishly assume, as I wrote above, that the principles of math apply equally to everyone and have no racial bias. Au contraire: “math as a neutral subject is a lie,” Vilson asserts, really getting worked up now, “and the folks who perpetrate the myth lie for their comfort. Math has often centered the success of straight white men and those who believe in their schema.” He does not explain what the “schema” of straight white men is, but again, he doesn’t need to; he assumes that his audience tacitly agrees that straight white males in toto are mendacious bigots.

Vilson favorably cites Rochelle Gutierrez, another math equity activist, who argues, “On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White.” Campus Reform notes that she claims math helps perpetuate “white privilege” because the fact that our economy places a premium on math skills gives math a form of “unearned privilege” for math professors, who are disproportionately white. This inequity in skin color therefore must be the result of a devious conspiracy (schema?) on the part of “straight white males.” (Boo! Hiss!)

In a column on math equity at Medium last year, Sunil Singh too argues that math education is biased in favor of a Western (read: white) 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,” he notes, pointing out that most mathematicians celebrated in the classroom, from Pythagoras to Newton, were white. Singh, Vilson, Gutierrez, and other other race-obsessed social justice activists automatically conclude that this signifies racism.

“Calculus was a monumental achievement and deserves to have authorship recognized with Newton,” Singh writes magnanimously. “But, what if it wasn’t Newton that discovered calculus? What if it was Japanese scholar Seki Takakazu?” But it wasn’t; it was Newton (or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz; both men independently “discovered” it and each blamed the other for stealing it). Some argue that their contemporary Seki hit upon the idea first, but he apparently never formulated the concept as fully as Newton or Leibniz, and Japan was utterly isolated from the world at that time; thus Newton’s (or Leibniz’s) ideas were vastly more influential and he is credited with the discovery. “But the bigger idea,” Singh wonders, “is why couldn’t this be a possibility? Do we not want to be dislodged from the entrenched Western narrative?”

And there you have it: the real motive is to reject “the entrenched Western narrative” because multiculturalist dogma equates “Western” with “whiteness,” and the multiculturalist Left views whiteness as inherently oppressive, classist, and above all, racist. As has been noted many times by me and others, multiculturalism is quite simply anti-Western envy, resentment, and hatred. It seeks to delegitimize and subvert Western values, achievements, and social structures, and the strategy for that includes demonizing the bogeymen “whiteness” and “white privilege.”

“Things cannot be known objectively,” Rochelle Gutierrez has written. “They must be known subjectively.” The Left cannot acknowledge the existence of objective truth because only the Party may be in possession of the truth, and in order to acquire and maintain totalitarian power, the truth must be as flexible as the Party needs it to be at any given moment. That includes the objective truths of mathematics, which are being weaponized in the name of social justice.

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Photo by Wallpoper at Wikimedia Commons

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