by Peter Franklin
Monday, 6
December 2021
Campus Wars
13:30

California mathematicians turn against woke curriculum

A group of 500 teachers and scientists have objected to a politicised syllabus
by Peter Franklin
Credit: Getty

Maths ought to be the least political of subjects. It doesn’t matter if you’re Left or Right, two plus two always equals four. 

And yet in America, this most objective of subjects is turning into a battlefield. The controversy centres on the California Mathematics Framework (CMF) — a set of guidelines for the teaching of maths in the state’s public schools.

According to the New York Times, the framework would “de-emphasize calculus, reject the idea that some children are naturally gifted and build a connection to social justice.”

The objective may seem like a laudable one, to reduce inequalities in educational outcomes between different ethnic groups. However, some of methods chosen have caused widespread alarm. An open letter published yesterday protesting the CMF has been signed by over 500 distinguished mathematicians and scientists — including winners of the the Fields Medal. 

Two key objections stand out. 

The first is to the policy of delaying or restricting access to advanced courses in algebra and calculus. If the most accomplished students aren’t allowed to streak ahead, then in theory that would result in more equal outcomes, but only by levelling-down. This would be to the overall detriment of STEM education and to America’s international competitiveness.

Furthermore, the policy might also fail on its own objective of equalising outcomes. If students aren’t able to access teaching in the most challenging mathematical disciplines at school, then those with the most privileged and/or pushy parents will turn to private tutors and expensive online courses. Other students may have an aptitude for maths that means that they do well in the courses that they are taught and tested on. But if they’re left without a grounding in advanced topics like calculus — then they will struggle at college level. This is a recipe for more not less inequality.

The other major concern is over the introduction of soft option courses with not much actual mathematical content. Teaching the subject in a way that demonstrates its relevance to modern life is a great idea, but what gets taught still needs to be maths and not merely maths-adjacent. 

The open letter doesn’t say much about the ideology that leads to the levelling-down approach. But if one takes the Left-wing approach of emphasising equality of outcome above all other considerations — including equality of opportunity — then this sort of policy is exactly what we can expect. 

It’s an astonishing irony that this is taking place in California — a state whose economy is built upon its world-beating tech industry and thus the application of advanced mathematics. While it is encouraging that so many academics and researchers are speaking out, they need to be joined by major employers. 

But with few exceptions, we can expect Silicon Valley to maintain its alliance with California’s ultra-liberal policy-makers. The tech lords will remain within their exclusive enclaves, while the rest of the state decays around them. 

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John Barclay
John Barclay
9 months ago

I don’t know why people can’t see that the whole point of all woke ideologies is to level down, so that most in society are in conflict with reality and with each other, and many become dependent on the state, so a new (supposedly) benign oligopoly will rule over it all.

It’s all being done under the guise of kindness and compassion, but it’s absolutely all about a return to serfdom for the masses, erasing the meritocracy that came along with industrial revolution.

The long march through the institutions has happened, and now the woke left are trying to implement their agenda, and people are waking up to it.

Not fast enough, sadly.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
9 months ago
Reply to  John Barclay

I do remember, about 50 years ago, a teacher from an Inner London school saying, about white working class children in this case, that given their difficult circumstances we can’t expect as much from them as you would more advantaged kids, and we shouldn’t push them. So, set them up to fail is presumably the answer.

James Joyce
James Joyce
9 months ago

I hate George W. Bush, but he called what you describe “the soft bigotry of low expectations…..”

Last edited 9 months ago by James Joyce
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago

Their own parents set them up to fail and their community and peers reinforced it – often single mothers or low quality parents with a culture of failure and often not very intelligent genes –

You think the state can reverse this? The best the state can do is educate them to minimal level and be daycare so they are not out being anti-social on the streets.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
9 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

true. In NZ there is a permanent ‘tail’ of low educational acheivers that no amount of money can fix cos their parents are happy for them to eat chips and coke whilst blobbing on the couch watching crap TV or worse (but it is absolutely not OK to ever point this out in case someone’s feelings are hurt or some responsibility might have to be taken …)

Aldo Maccione
Aldo Maccione
9 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

“Responsibility” being the key issue here.

Aleksandra Kovacevic
Aleksandra Kovacevic
9 months ago
Reply to  chris sullivan

God forbid ‘some responsibility might have to be taken’ in the UK too…

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
9 months ago
Reply to  John Barclay

I see your suggestion that the point of woke ideologues is to level down so that many become dependent on the state to enable an oligopoly to rule has garnered a lot of thumbs up. However, being the rulers of a dung heap doesn’t sound a particularly attractive proposition, given that reducing the mathematical and technological prospects of the US will merely level the country to the equivalent of a dung heap as the country will lose its economic position to less woke societies.
is it not more likely the push for equity is coming from a lower level of society who are rather stupid and believe the socialist ideology. The aristocrats of capitalism surely merely pretend to support this nonsense to ensure the mob don’t turn on them and deprive them of their privilege. They are happy for the lower orders to fight among themselves in the meantime. Once the madness has burnt itself will they not turn on the low level academics and diversity/equity mongers and renounce them and their former beliefs?
Do the rich really want to be big fish in a smaller pond? It smacks of a conspiracy theory.

Last edited 9 months ago by Jeremy Bray
Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Regarding your first point: all I can say is that the Chinese must be rolling on the floor with laughter.
Regarding your second point: ‘is it not more likely the push for equity is coming from a lower level of society who are rather stupid and believe the socialist ideology?’ – I would say no. I know that this policy is coming from the US and that as a Brit I have limited knowledge of the US lower classes, but I can’t believe that there is much difference between the attitudes of working class people in the US and UK (except maybe on guns and religion – if you took out the references to guns and religion then JD Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy could equally have been written about the UK). In the UK working classes, and I am sure in the US too, everyone loves a story about the little guy who makes it big despite life’s adversities. If that little guy ends up being a millionaire, then everyone wishes him well and no-one wants to bring him back down. The key thing is that the working classes (at least in the UK) have never pushed for equity of outcome – they realise that would be communism. Many of them have instead argued for equal opportunity, which is a different matter. I would suggest that the push for equity is coming from the wealthier end of the middle classes. Certainly in the UK the debate amongst the woke seems to care more about equity when it comes to comparing one newsreader who is on a quarter of a million pounds per year against another who is on half a million. They are not interested in the plights of the poor. 

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
9 months ago

Yes, I was not sufficiently precise when I referred to the lower levels. I had in mind a level lower than the real multi-millionaire/billionaire level but certainly not the working class. It is the class that has been corrupted by attending University where they learn a superficial progressive dogma and believe they are doing good by promoting woke beliefs. They might think they are an elite but ultimately they are not. The class of Marx and Engels.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I think your reply gets it about right.

Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
9 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

I agree. Well said.

Su Mac
Su Mac
9 months ago
Reply to  John Barclay

Levelling down…Remember when the Viet Minh searched out Doctors and other “elites” to humiliate and kill them? The man who played the Vietnamese journalist liaison in The Killing Fields was in real life an obstetrician who could not openly help his pregnant wife give birth in a labour camp as they would have both be killed. She died as a result I believe…

Keith Jefferson
Keith Jefferson
9 months ago

This policy from California is just so wrong and will harm the people it aims to protect. I say this from experience, having been educated in one of the rougher schools in south London in the late seventies and early eighties. Despite coming from poor backgrounds, I and a few others at that school had a talent for maths and physics, even if we weren’t so good at other subjects. We tended to be a bit nerdy; some would be placed on the autistic spectrum nowadays. Fortunately, we had a fantastic maths teacher (thank you, Mr Tuck) who inspired us and got us through O levels then A levels in maths and saw us get into university at a time when very few kids from poor backgrounds had that chance. Looking back on this period, I now realise that our teacher was from a different mould than the other teachers – he was the kind of teacher you might expect at a private school; strict on discipline but always doing the best for those under his charge. As an example, he taught us about the Latin roots of words used in maths and physics, despite Latin being a no-no subject for state schools in London.
That teacher helped me out of poverty because he got me to a stage where I could go to university, get a degree and then a decent job. And here’s the thing: almost all of the kids in that class with me were black.  It was a school in south London, at the time with about 20% of black kids, but in that A level maths class it was more like 80% black kids. That teacher, with the traditional teaching methods (I am guessing that he himself was privately educated – he certainly seemed to be from a class higher than us kids) did a lot more for poor and black kids than anything the more progressive teachers in our school did.
The Californian policy of ‘delaying or restricting access to advanced courses in algebra and calculus’ is just so wrong.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago

“This policy from California is just so wrong and will harm the people it aims to protect.”

This Woke policy is Designed to harm and destroy – so it will work exactly as planned.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
9 months ago

So unless we can all do calculus no one can. FFS

J Bryant
J Bryant
9 months ago

It’s an astonishing irony that this is taking place in California — a state whose economy is built upon its world-beating tech industry and thus the application of advanced mathematics.
When the US talent base is depleted due to progressive educational policies, big tech will simply lobby to increase the number of work visas for qualified foreigners.

chris sullivan
chris sullivan
9 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Yes, I hear that the Indians are taking over – probably due to their lowered educational standards….

Andrea X
Andrea X
9 months ago

I wish this article was a commentary on the proposal itself, rather than a commentary on a commentary behind a paywall.
Anyway, I have opened a couple of docs and the opening salvo is not that promising…
“Note to reader: The use of the non-binary, singular pronouns they, them, their, theirs, themself, and themselves in this framework is intentional.”

Last edited 9 months ago by Andrea X
Drahcir Nevarc
Drahcir Nevarc
9 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Note to docu-director: The use of non-binary, singular pronouns they, them, their, theirs, themself, and themselves in this framework automatically triggers ridicule.

James Joyce
James Joyce
9 months ago

Heard something on The BBC from a defector from North Korea, where maths was taught as follows: If 10 American soldiers invade the Motherland, and the valiant DPRK forces kill 9 of them, how many American invaders remain?
This is the same thing in an American context.
People in America absolutely argue–you can’t make this up–that “equality of outcome” requires massive intervention to make people with some advantages, or people w/o advantages who prize hard work and education above all else (often Asian immigrants)–for example, eliminating test prep courses, eliminating “advanced” courses, eliminating “gifted and talented” programs. In the US, perhaps the West writ large, there is not that much difference between the West and the DPRK. Perhaps still a bit of daylight, but certainly heading in that direction, and equality of outcome–no one is smart–is the goal.
Of course the elites can withdraw from this, with better schools or private lessons. The unis can eliminate standardized testing from the admissions decisions (I wonder why), but last I heard, Google still asked applicants about their SAT (standardized test) scores.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  James Joyce

The SAT is basically an IQ test disguised as a knowledge test. The Tech/Social Media complex are out to destroy the West wile pretending to make it better, and also become fantastically wealthy and powerful. Naturally then need the brightest.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago

The fact that the ability to do maths, rather than showing the evil of racism, instead shows there is some justification for noticing race differences. In the universities the Chinese and Indians seem to be the best at it on average. Math is a smoking gun which shows every student in every school that some are just better at intellectual things than others.

The letter writers dare not point this out – rather stating the obvious wile dancing around the core truth, which is that almost everything intellectual is stratified by innate ability, that ability is innate, and it is not spread uniformly, and so school and later, work, are not equal at all, and you cannot be what ever you want to be.

D Glover
D Glover
9 months ago

Can we achieve greater equality in the men’s 100 metre sprint? Surely the best way is to not allow the black athletes to streak away and finish so fast.
It is axiomatic that black, white, asian and inuit are equally good at this event, so we just have to get them finishing with the same time.

Last edited 9 months ago by D Glover
Emre Emre
Emre Emre
9 months ago

Being aggressively progressive got California where it is today – it looks like it’s time for pay back.

Matt B
Matt B
9 months ago

US annually loses more of its marbles, and risks the end of its remaining go-to influence among bewildered allies sick of destructive cultural fad exports.

Last edited 9 months ago by Matt B