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Arithmetic as racism: A teacher’s reflections on the progressive war on math

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Is teaching objective facts an imposition of Western imperialism?:

In actual fact, key concepts behind mathematics came to the West from non-Western lands. The concept of the number zero — a revolutionary concept for mathematics — has roots in Mesopotamia and India, for example. Al-jabr, or “algebra” as we call it, came to us from the Middle East. Moreover, mathematics is embraced far beyond the West today as the basis for just about every modern advancement — from smartphones to medical research to skyscrapers. This is important context before dismissing mathematics, as we have always understood it, as being “oppressive”. These are ominous signs of our times. For good reason do many describe ours a “post-truth” world. Social theorist Thomas Sowell, who is himself African-American, was sharp in his analysis that “we are living in an era when sanity is controversial and insanity is just another viewpoint”. English philosopher G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) saw the early signs of the West’s abandonment of objective truth, and in a cheeky tone, he warned: We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green…

Could it be that in coming years, insisting that 2+2=4 will become as risky as saying that there are only two genders?

Kurt Mahlberg, “Is it racist to say that 2+2=4?” at MercatorNet

Of course. Many mediocrities in education have everything to gain and nothing to lose by replacing actual knowledge and skills with busywork around current fads and dogmas. The longer this goes on, the more desperately they need to prevent any reckoning, any basis for comparison, any way they may be held accountable for the wreckage.

See also: Nancy Pearcey: A dispatch from the Woke war on math

and

The progressive war on science takes dead aim at math

14 Replies to “Arithmetic as racism: A teacher’s reflections on the progressive war on math

  1. 1
    daveS says:

    From the Mahlberg post:

    A Brooklyn College professor also voiced her view that 2 + 2 = 4 “reeks of White supremacist patriarchy”. Laurie Rubel objected to “the idea that math (or data) is culturally neutral or in any way objective,” claiming that this is a myth. “I’m ready to move on with that understanding. Who’s coming with me?” she added. Several other academics from American universities and colleges went on to retweet and support her views.

    This is a bit of fake news that has taken hold, unfortunately, and it seems unlikely it will be corrected. She did not say that “2 + 2 = 4” reeks of white supremacy.

  2. 2
    Belfast says:

    Not sure what you mean by ‘fake news’
    This is her on Twitter
    ‘Here’s another: Repeat, ON LOOP, “of course math is neutral because 2+2=4.” Rely on that supposed axiom to then target ppl (& especially women) for coordinated ridicule/harassment. Never stray from this LOOP because it’s an easy one to engage every Tom Dick & Harry to engage‘

  3. 3
    daveS says:

    That’s correct; note that she didn’t say that the equation “2 + 2 = 4” reeks of white supremacy.

    I think that she should have been more specific and not just said “math”. She’s talking about algorithms etc. that, for example, Google uses to rank search results.

    More explicitly, she is attacking this sort of statement: “the algorithms Google uses to rank search results are neutral because 2 + 2 = 4”. That’s clearly false, although I’m not convinced it has anything to do with white supremacy.

  4. 4
    Querius says:

    Apparently, Professor Rubel deleted her original tweet, but not before people screen capped it. There were apparently two tweets:

    the idea that math (or data) is culturally neutral or in any way objective is a MYTH. i’m ready to move on with that understanding. who’s coming with me? #takebackmath

    along with the “of course math is neutral because 2+2=4” trope are the related (and creepy) “math is pure” and “protect math.”

    reeks of white supremacist patriarchy.

    i’d rather think on nurturing people & protecting the planet (with math in service of them goals)

    I loved the quote in the OP that read:

    English philosopher G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) saw the early signs of the West’s abandonment of objective truth, and in a cheeky tone, he warned: We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that two and two make four, in which people will persecute the heresy of calling a triangle a three-sided figure, and hang a man for maddening a mob with the news that grass is green…

    Chesterton was amazingly insightful!

    -Q

  5. 5
    daveS says:

    Thanks for posting those, Querius.

    While I don’t think the Rubel tweets signal an abandonment of genuine objective truth, I would be interested to see examples in the wild as straightforward as “2 + 2 = 4 is false”.

    I can attest to the fact that “grass is green” is not universally true, after looking at my lawn… 🙂

  6. 6
    daveS says:

    Correction: I meant to ask for an example (like) someone being howled down for insisting that 2 + 2 = 4.

  7. 7
    Truthfreedom says:

    We shall soon be in a world in which a man may be howled down for saying that …

    … He is not a wo-man.

    Yesterday I read something about a woman who behaves and feels like a horse.
    Should we build stalls for her? (Or ‘it’)?

  8. 8
    Querius says:

    I’d suggest that a lot of statements that sound obviously flawed are not so much a test of reasoning but a test of orthodoxy.

    A good example is the woman who was immediately arrested for “defacing” graffiti that stated “Black Lives Matter” to make it read “All Black lives Matter.”

    Question: Did you just experience a visceral reaction to this comment? Was it for the information content of the message or the ideology behind the message?

    -Q

  9. 9
    daveS says:

    Querius,

    I had mild reactions at two points. The notion that graffiti could be “defaced” is odd (although not inconceivable, I suppose). Also, I was expecting it to have been modified to “All Lives Matter”, so “All Black Lives Matter” was a surprise.

    I didn’t have a strong visceral reaction. If I were more interested in this event, I probably would have liked to witness it myself and compare my observations to this brief summary and media accounts.

  10. 10
    Bob O'H says:

    DaveS – one man’s graffiti is another man’s street art I suppose.

  11. 11
    Querius says:

    But the woman was arrested.

    The phrase “All Black Lives Matter” is interpreted to refer to the racial disparity that African-American women have five times the abortion rate of Caucasian women. Since 1973, about 20-25 million African-American pregnancies have been aborted.

    Tell me, why is that politically OK?

    Wouldn’t this dramatic racial disparity qualify as a quiet form of genocide against a minority?

    -Q

  12. 12
    daveS says:

    Querius,

    I hadn’t heard of that meaning of “all black lives matter”—I only found it used to describe a movement concerning gay black people. But I don’t doubt that anti-abortion folks also are using it as well, to be clear.

    In any case, “defacing” graffiti is also an act of creating graffiti, which is usually unlawful, so I can see someone getting arrested for it.

    It could very well be that the anti-graffiti laws were being applied unfairly and unequally, and in that case there would be an obvious problem. I highly doubt the person arresting the woman had any intention of contributing to an act of genocide, fwiw.

    Again, I would want to either witness the event firsthand or evaluate the evidence myself before coming to a conclusion.

  13. 13
    Querius says:

    Well, my original point was that this drama isn’t over the *actual content* of the message, but rather a political ideology–it’s not about communicating anything meaningful, but a symbolic display of a specific orthodoxy.

    So, imagine what would happen if you painted 2+2=4 on a math building at your local college or university. Paint it artistically in many colors. Call it public art or a mural.

    Ok, so you’re not sure.

    Try it out with a large poster that reads “2+2=4” as an experiment and see what happens. Or maybe try to communicate a message that reads “Abortion is Black Genocide,” “Grass is Green,” or even “Purple Lives Matter.” I bet you’d find that the Guardians of Dogma (GoD) at the university would not take kindly to your effort at free speech. 🙂

    -Q

  14. 14
    daveS says:

    Querius,

    That’s true. If some kids drew pictures and wrote slogans on the sidewalk with chalk in front of my house, I might choose to wash it off or not depending on the content of the message. I might leave “2 + 2 = 4” as long as it wasn’t unsightly, but remove “abortion is black genocide”.

    We don’t have any colleges or universities nearby so I can’t do that experiment. I suspect results would be similar.

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