By Lance Izumi and Wenyuan Wu
After enacting a controversial bill mandating ethnic studies in high school, California is set to consider a woke math framework sometime in the new year. Surprisingly and importantly, key opposition to this proposal is coming from Democrats, who warn their party of defections if they continue to push for its approval.
The proposed math framework, pushed by Democrat progressives, explicitly rejects math as a “neutral discipline” and seeks to raise students’ “sociopolitical consciousness.”
Worse, the math framework seeks to discourage accelerating talented students so they can take higher order math courses, such as calculus, in high school. Instead, the proposal calls for a forced uniform-assignment system where all students take the same math courses regardless of their abilities.
A recent public letter signed by 1,300 prominent mathematicians and scientists criticized the math framework saying, “There cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to K-12 mathematical education” and students should take courses like algebra, calculus, and logical reasoning “at varying grade levels in middle and high school when they are ready.”
The letter states that students should not be “deliberately held back” but be “challenged to their full potential,” which would benefit them, plus “society and the nation’s economy.”
It is interesting to note that the coordinators of this public letter are part of the group Save California Mathematics Education, whose members include noted Democrats in the STEM field.
Randi Paynter, a Democrat and Indigenous-American scientist engaged in health equity research, commented, “I oppose this math framework because it is not based on science or research.”
Indeed, the letter emphasizes that the framework proposes drastic changes based “on scant and inconclusive evidence” and subjecting “the children of our largest state to such an experiment is the height of irresponsibility.”
Materials scientist David Marguiles, a life-long Democrat and retired IBM researcher, warned his party that “if they further endorse inhibiting math education, which is what [the math framework] does, this will be enough to cause many parents to have to override their beliefs on social issues that the Democratic party stands for, and switch political parties.”
Such switches are already occurring.
For example, Avery Wang, who invented the popular app Shazam, said, “I was a lifelong Democrat. I care about the environment, social justice, and sustainability.” However, “The new California math framework puts rocket boosters on the race to the bottom” because it “denies the existence of giftedness and assumes that competence in mathematics becomes a matter of white privilege that must be equalized out by holding together students of all abilities.”
Because his party has pushed the new woke math, Wang says: “I feel the Democratic Party no longer represents me. I have switched my affiliation to independent.”
Wang’s feelings are no anomaly among Democrats. A 2021 national survey, which included equal proportions of Democrat and Republican voters, showed strong bipartisan opposition to key woke tenets.
Nearly eight out of 10 of the respondents strongly opposed assigning “White students the status of ‘privileged’ and assign non-white students the status of ‘oppressed.’”
A similar eight out of 10 opposed (somewhat or strongly) promoting “social justice political activism in the classroom.”
Parents in Democrat strongholds are taking action against woke curricula.
In liberal Palo Alto, parents filed a recent lawsuit against the Palo Alto Unified School District over the implementation of a math curriculum similar to the proposed statewide math curriculum framework.
The parent plaintiffs argue that the district “intentionally and systematically targets talented math students and denies them earned opportunities to be exceptional.”
The district admits that it is opposed to providing a lane for high-performing students and, instead, believes in “Heterogeneous classes” that mix high and low-achieving students.
Margulies urges the Democrat leaders to listen to Democrat parents who oppose the new woke math. “Democratic politicians need to speak out against this, and not in some ambiguous way so that it could be interpreted as going either way, but clearly and strongly . . . if they want to save their voting bloc.”
Margulies and his fellow Democrat STEM professionals are right. Math education should not be about pushing a divisive ideology, but about promoting knowledge and excellence and preparing our students for our modern economy.