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Does math have a liberal bias?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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Florida has decided to further elevate its right-wing slant by taking its book banning beyond school and public libraries to math books, rejecting 41 percent of proposed new math books, citing critical race theory (CRT) and elements of Common Core as reasons for the rejection. Since they haven’t been very clear about naming the rejected books, or specific passages in the books that they have a problem with, it’s hard to analyze their objections.

It is certainly hard to understand how math could be used to indoctrinate students with CRT. And Common Core (an Obama era plan to standardize education across the nation) was championed by Florida when it was first proposed. The way math is taught has changed dramatically over time, primarily because it is difficult for many students.

When I was learning math in the 1950s and 1960s, we learned by rote. We memorized addition, multiplication, and division tables, with teachers and parents holding up Flash Cards to drill those tables into our young minds. And, if you were good at memorizing, you could get a good grade by regurgitating those tables when called on by the teacher. Because we didn’t learn the concepts behind those tables, though, we would run into trouble when confronted with real-world calculations in our daily lives.

My sister, two years younger than me, was the victim of the supposed solution to that problem, a method called “New Math.” The idea was to eliminate the rote memorization and teach the concepts behind the math. Once you understood the concepts, the thinking was, you could solve any math problem by reasoning it out. My sister became skilled with grouping, etc. She was, in fact, a straight “A” student (and ultimately Valedictorian of her high school class). But, she couldn’t solve simple multiplication and division problems without working through the concepts.

Over the years since then, educators have worked to refine math teaching methods to make math more relevant to the students lives. For example, most of us rarely need to deal with pure math problems. And even if we do, Texas Instruments in 1971 introduced the pocket calculator (now incorporated into smart phones), that puts any calculation in the palm of our hands. What we need to solve are practical problems that involve math. For example, if I invite 36 people to my child’s sixth birthday party, and I have 7 games they can play, how do I divide them so they can all play each game in the time I’ve set for the party.

The best way to teach this kind of abstract situation in a math class is to have the students solve that kind of problem. And there is the place that culture must enter education. O.K., there are girls and boys among those invited. Six-year-old girls and boys might not want to play with the other sex, they might not like to play the same kind of games. Now the students need to work that into their solution.

Critical Race Theory is a framework taught at the graduate level in universities. If you are suggesting it is being incorporated deliberately and explicitly in elementary level math, you are engaged in some aspect of culture war that sees parts of our society you choose to ignore as bad, and that if you can hide the people you do not like from your kids, they will never encounter them.

Common Core was proposed so that as you moved from city to city, and state to state, your kids would have a uniform educational experience. As a teenager, I moved from a district that was one of the most advanced in Texas, to a poor district that had many fewer resources. I took biology, chemistry, drafting courses, and speech courses in Jr. High that were only offered in High School in the district I moved to. Which means I was forced to repeat numerous courses I had already had. Common Core was promoted to prevent that kind of thing.

Both of these things have been turned into something evil by those who are using them as a wedge issue to tear the country apart.

Look, if you want to indoctrinate your kids to think exactly as you do, then take the time to indoctrinate them. As their parent, you have far more power to influence them than overworked teachers. But they will be far better off if you work to teach them to think independently, so they can survive in a world that will continue to change long after they are out of your direct control.

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