The Evil of Fuzzy Math

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Fuzzy Math

by Doug French by Doug French


Those who worship at the altar of Political Correctness and believe American public schools are doing just a dandy job of educating youth might want to consider the following: China graduated almost 200,000 engineers, 44 percent of the undergraduate degrees, in 1999, according to the National Science Foundation, and has plans to eventually graduate a million engineers each year.

In contrast, U.S. engineering schools churned out just 73,000 engineers in 2004, according to Ronald Barr, Past President of the American Society for Engineering Education, totaling less than 5 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded. “Our graduate schools are filled with foreign nationals who last year earned 58 percent of the engineering Ph.D.s awarded in the United States. This country relies heavily on these grads to fill our technological needs, but more and more U.S.-trained engineers are returning home after graduation,” Barr wrote back in 2005.

Barr makes the case that students must excel at math and science to succeed in the engineering field. So you would think there would be a renewed focus on that third R — Rithmetic. But in some New York City schools, math class has become a vehicle for leftist teachers to indoctrinate students to socialism. If the kids learn a little math along the way, it’s likely an accident.

Click on and be amazed. Right away you’ll notice the organization’s mission: “RadicalMath is a resource for educators interested in integrating issues of social and economic justice into math curriculum and classes.”

These folks recently held a conference attracting 400 math teachers and education professors entitled “Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice.” The official program’s first page started with a passage from Paulo Freire, the Brazilian Marxist educator and icon of the teaching-for-social-justice movement: “There is no such thing as a neutral education process. Education either functions as an instrument which is used to [. . .] bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of our world.”

Ellen Davidson from Simmons College led the first session of the conference entitled: “How Unfair Is It? Analyzing World Resource Distribution in Mathematically Rigorous Ways.” The workshop promised to design lessons to “help children build stronger conceptual mathematics skills while simultaneously helping them understand social injustice.”

Sarah Ludwig led a workshop on Teaching Mathematics Through an Economics Justice Lens and a group of Chicago public high school students took attendees through a social justice mathematics project involving racial profiling. But I really wish I could have been there for: “Beyond Barbie: Moving from Scale to Social Justice,” facilitated by Portland State’s Swapna Mukhopadhyay. The workshop description reads: “In this hands-on session” — whatever that means — “we will focus on how mathematizing Barbie doll in terms of proportional reasoning opens up to a deep interrogation of some vexing social and cultural issues of our global world. Besides unpacking the relationship between self image, self worth and body image that result in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, we will also look at the labor issues — particularly in terms sweatshops conditions — in toy manufacturing.” Got that? And you thought calculus was hard.

It turns out that RadicalMath got its start with a grant from the New York City Department of Education. The conference’s principal organizer, Jonathan Osler, is a math teacher at El Puente Academy, a small “social-justice” high school in Brooklyn. Back in 2005, he and two math teachers from other schools applied for the DOE’s Zone Teacher Inquiry Grants Program. According to City Journal’s Sol Stern, some of the social-justice issues that math classes explore are: check-cashing locations ripping off poor people, H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt ripping off poor people, and foreclosure agencies ripping off poor people.

When informed about the “Creating Balance” conference, the school’s chancellor Joel Klein told Stern, “This is a private conference, at which a range of views will be expressed. It seems that many of these views are hardly ‘radical.’”

Hardly radical? It used to be that kids would actually learn some math in high school before going off to college to be turned into Commies. It probably doesn’t matter whether these kids can add, subtract and multiply. After all, social justice demands that society provide for them from cradle to grave. But, has anyone warned the Chinese?

This article originally appeared in Liberty Watch Magazine.

Doug French [send him mail] is executive vice president of a Nevada bank and associate editor for Liberty Watch Magazine. He received the Murray N. Rothbard Award from the Center for Libertarian Studies.

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