California Academics Warn Woke Math Curriculum ‘Will Do Lasting Damage’

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An open letter from more than 1,200 California academics and teachers is protesting the state’s proposed K-12 math curriculum, which the signatories state amounts to “an endless river of new pedagogical fads that effectively distort and displace actual math.”

Signatories of Independent Institute’s “Open Letter to Replace the Proposed New California Math Curriculum Framework” include 900 academics, at 67 California colleges and in universities, who assert the state is “on the verge of politicizing K-12 math in a potentially disastrous way.”

The letter sends a similar warning as another from hundreds of the nation’s top scientists and mathematicians that expresses “alarm” at what the signers say are the likely devastating consequences of California’s “Equitable Math” framework that prioritizes social justice ideology over actual math.

The proposed curriculum “is presented as a step toward social justice and racial equity, but its effect would be the opposite—to rob all Californians, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, who always suffer most when schools fail to teach their students,” states the Independent Institute’s open letter.

“As textbooks and other teaching materials approved by the State would have to follow this framework and since teachers are expected to use it as a guide, its potential to steal a promising future from our children is enormous,” the signatories warn, adding the framework’s creators have attempted to “build a mathless Brave New World on a foundation of unsound ideology.”

“A real champion of equity and justice would want all California’s children to learn actual math—as in arithmetic, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus—not an endless river of new pedagogical fads that effectively distort and displace actual math,” they write.

The academics observe California’s proposed K-12 framework:

  • Promotes fringe teaching methods such as “trauma-informed pedagogy.” [ch. 2, p. 16]
  • Distracts from actual mathematics by having teachers insert “environmental and social justice” into the math curriculum. [ch. 1, p. 35]
  • Distracts from actual mathematics by assigning students—as schoolwork—tasks it says will solve “problems that result in social inequalities.” [ch. 7, p. 29]
  • Urges teachers to take a “justice-oriented perspective at any grade level, K–12” and explicitly rejects the idea that mathematics itself is a “neutral discipline.” [ch. 2, p. 29]
  • “Reject[s] ideas of natural gifts and talents” and discourages accelerating talented mathematics students. [ch. 1, p. 8]

The letter’s signatories vehemently “disagree” with the framework’s approach to teaching math and note how the decline of American students in mathematics achievement has already affected U.S. industry:

The claim that math is not accessible is an insult to the millennia of non-Western mathematicians and erases the contributions of cultures around the world to mathematics as we now know it. Large numbers of students in developing countries are currently succeeding in advanced mathematics, and American industries have been put in the position of having to encourage them to come to the United States to work.

The academics reject the one-size-fits-all scheme of the framework that refuses to acknowledge different abilities in math, stating they find it “immoral and foolish to intentionally hold back the intellectual growth of students by forcing them to waste time in unchallenging classes.”

“Those who are ready to move up, should do so,” they assert. “They should not be held back for fear of recognizing the existence of differences in giftedness—differences which are a reality in every human endeavor.”

The signatories say both modern science and technology, and a constitutionally-based system centered on human rights and equal opportunity, arose from a rejection of identity politics, favoring instead “objective” and “neutral” inquiry.

“We believe infusing mathematics with political rhetoric is alien to mathematics as a discipline, and will do lasting damage,” the academics warn.

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