Methodologies of Critical Race Theory Part Two: Racist Mathematics
In my last article, I discussed some methods being used to examine education through a Critical Race Theory perspective. Critical multicultural analysis and critical contextual analysis are research models used to examine power relationships and the ways dominant cultures allegedly, oppress minorities. These concepts are applied to mathematics as well. Math education has been viewed as a method of teaching problem solving and finding a universal truth through numbers. There are no politics or racial problems in math, it just is what it is. Two plus two will always be four. Critical race theorists, however, have suggested that mathematics education is a vehicle from which power and identity can either be built upon or oppressed because math prowess is a symbol of societal prestige. In this article, I will examine how CRT applies in math by reviewing an article called The sociopolitical turn in mathematics education, by Rochelle Gutiérrez.
Most people assume the use of CRT in math education suggests the idea that math itself is racist because minorities are not as capable. Looking at the attitudes of the political left and how they have argued the need for a welfare state and other programs like affirmative action, this is a fair assumption. This is the same attitude that prompts someone like President Biden to suggest minorities are not smart enough to use a computer to find the closest place to receive a vaccine. Democrats seem to argue that minorities need the government to create a level playing field for them. Critical race theory in math goes a little deeper than arguing math is a social construct that promotes racism because of a so-called achievement gap. CRT examines how individual power and identities develop based on the power structures that determine what minority students should learn about math (Gutierrez, 2013).
Like all aspects of our society, the political left has turned something as politically neutral as mathematics into a quest for social justice. Gutierrez (2013) argues math is a human construct. Therefore, it deals with issues of power and domination (Gutierrez, 2013). In my last article, I showed that much of this perspective represents a pre-existing bias, an already formed opinion that America is a racist society. By applying CRT to mathematics education, leftists scholars are seeking to transform mathematics in a way they suggest, balances societal privilege (Gutierrez, 2013). The key to achieving this, Gutierrez (2013) argues, is realizing politics in mathematics and other educational endeavors exist because they are man-made constructs. In other words, they are looking for racism where none exists. For example, in their book Critical Race Theory in Education, Adrienne Dixon and Celia Rosseau admit their ideas are assumed, and not proven. They reject the idea of equality under the law, and other aspects of American society as a matter of preferring their own theoretical perspectives. They are choosing to look for racism under an already existing assumption that it exists everywhere.
Citing the book Literacy: Reading the Word & the World by Paulo Freire and Donaldo Pereira Macedo, Gutierrez (2013) highlights that the purpose of social justice applications in math is to allow learners to identify their place within the dominant power structure and, analyze data in a way that allows them to expose injustices in society. Mathematics teachers using the CRT perspective should be working, Gutierrez (2013) claims, to deconstruct racism and show how “whiteness” is the dominant cultural viewpoint. Challenging assumptions about racial hierarchies should be the driving factor in applying CRT to mathematics education.
The development of an individual’s identity through a CRT perspective is a bit complex, and in many ways, more of a social construct that allows them to make claims of racial domination and oppression. This is the perspective that suggests math is a racist power structure. Gutierrez (2013) argues that identity is not only defined by the individual but from the lens of others around them. This may be true, to a degree. What she is saying is that math is racist and a tool of social oppression because they teach it from a perspective of white normality. Gutierrez (2013) notes that success in math carries a certain prestige and that people who are unsuccessful in math are less smart than those who excel in it. She also refers, as many leftists do, to American meritocracy as a myth. Meaning the idea that we are all equally capable if we apply ourselves is something that is large, untrue. This coincides with the attitude of the left that minorities need affirmative action and other programs to make things equal. Gutierrez is proving that it is the left’s demented worldview that sees minorities as being incapable.
All math education should focus on carrying students as far as their abilities allow them to go. When ability and merit, however, are nothing but constructive myths, and the education system itself, something that is taught through the perspective of one dominant culture alone, this becomes an impossibility. Gutierrez (2013) argues that teaching math only to lessen the so-called achievement gap perpetuates whiteness and racism because it does not consider issues of identity. This is because the left views achievement also, from the perspective of white normality. In other words, comparing the abilities of minority students to standards held for white students perpetuates racism.
“Recognizing that the identities of individuals are constructed partly through the discourses that operate in mathematics education, we can begin to see how ability is socially constructed. The achievement gap is a perfect example. Although mainly concerned with the well-being of marginalized students (defined here as African American, Latina, American Indian/indigenous, working-class students, and English learners), mathematics education researchers who focus on the achievement gap support practices that often are against the best interests of those students. In fact, “gap gazing” offers little more than a static picture of inequities, supports deficit thinking and negative narratives about marginalized students, accepts a static notion of student identity, relies upon Whites as a comparison group, divides and categorizes students, ignores the largely overlapping distributions of student achievement, offers a “safe” proxy for talking about students of color without naming them, relies upon narrow definitions of learning and equity, and perpetuates the myth that the problem (and therefore solution) is technical in nature” (Gutiérrez, 2008a).
As I have said many times before. You must be a racist in the first place to think like this. Gutierrez is claiming that the perspectives of ability and merit from which they teach math, along with the idea that it is presented from a “position of whiteness,” is what creates the belief that minority students are inferior to whites. As if math itself is a construct that only white people understand. Gutierrez also claims that failing to teach math from a perspective that addresses issues of identity and power reduces students to nothing less than a standardized test score. This I agree with. Standardized tests are something that lowers standards for all students. I would also argue, however, that turning math into a sociopolitical issue, framing it from the perspective of people who have nothing better to do than find race in every issue for transformative change, has more to do with the idea that minorities are disadvantaged.
Read the rest at Defense of Our Nation