The ideological assault on math and objective standards

The next time you drive under a freeway overpass and find yourself stopped in traffic with trucks rumbling over the road above you, remember this: feelings don’t keep bridges from falling down. Math does.

So everyone should be concerned about the incursion of feelings into California’s 2022 revision of the “Mathematics Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve.”

Commissioned by the California Department of Education, Instructional Quality Commission and State Board of Education, this is a revision of the Mathematics Framework adopted in November 2013. The purpose of the framework is to provide “guidance to educators, parents, and publishers, to support implementing California content standards.”

The new Mathematics Framework isn’t final, and it’s only guidance, but because California is such a huge segment of the nation’s market for textbooks, publishers are likely to take the state’s educational curriculum, whatever it is, and make it a national standard.

If you plan to stand under any bridges in the future, you probably should buy a helmet now, before the country has a shortage of them.

The guidance recommends teaching math without an emphasis on correct answers, to avoid “perpetuating the students’ perspective that mathematics is merely a sterile set of rules.” That’s outdated, the framework contends, because “Employers used to value highly the people who could calculate and come up with correct answers, but now computers perform calculations,” so what’s valued now is “flexible and creative thinking.” But are they teaching kids to think or just to marinate in their own feelings?

“Teaching for Equity and Engagement,” chapter 2 in the January 2021 draft framework, advises teachers to provide “instruction that appropriately leverages students’ diverse knowledge bases, identities, and experiences for both learning and developing a sense of belonging to mathematics.”

In one example, Lori, a high school geometry teacher, tells her students that “a farmer has 36 individual fences, each measuring one meter in length, and that the farmer wants to put them together to make the biggest possible area.” Lori then asks the students about their knowledge of farming, and the students “engage in an animated discussion about farms and the reasons a farmer may want a fenced area.”

In another example, a math teacher is praised because her teaching method “sent the message that ideas were valued for reasons beyond being correct.”

One helmet may not be enough.

Here’s more guidance from the state of California: “With carefully chosen projects students can learn to address the inequities they experience, learning mathematical tools that allow them to highlight inequities and plan new ways forward.”

There’s a not-so-fine line between being sensitive to the fact that students come to school from different life experiences and categorizing children based on skin color, ethnicity or household income. Teaching children that the world inevitably will be unfair to them because of characteristics beyond their control is child abuse.

And it’s something more. It’s a war on objective standards. It’s an effort to teach children that there is no true set of facts or laws of nature that everyone is able to learn, and then go out into the world to work on equal footing with other people who also learned the true facts and laws. Instead, children will be taught that at birth they were part of a group, their future will be determined by other people’s view of that group, and the best thing they can do is learn to calculate the inequities.

This depressing and discouraging message is falsely presented as “empowerment.”

Part of the the war on objective standards is the demolition of “gifted and talented” programs. The premise here is that referrals to advanced educational programs are driven by racism. New York City has completely abolished its “gifted and talented” program, and other cities are making cutbacks or changes. California’s revised Mathematics Framework initially proposed ending the practice of “tracking” students into regular or advanced placement math beginning in sixth grade, until the idea ran into fierce opposition.

The way to improve educational outcomes is to inspire students to want to work hard at learning, because learning is hard work. In school as in life, there’s a direct correlation between effort and reward.

This is the connection that the “woke” reformers seek to break. This is the purpose of the war on objective standards.

Under socialism, communism or any of the variants of collectivism, everything produced in a country kind of belongs to everybody, and the government’s job is to distribute it, fairly or otherwise. That means there are no rewards for effort, only penalties, and there are no penalties for lack of effort, only rewards.

In order to justify this monstrous injustice, it’s necessary to find justifications for the use of government force against productive people.

The “teaching for equity” curriculum serves that purpose. It is teaching grievance and division instead of volition and empowerment. Students are being taught from kindergarten through college that historical injustice, which they never experienced in their own lives, persists today like some kind of genetic disease. This is why five-year-olds are instructed that they are oppressors or victims based on the color of their skin.

It is profoundly wrong and deeply un-American. The damage will be incalculable.

Write Susan Shelley: and follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

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