Woke Math Returns to California


Like the return of the undead, woke math has come back to haunt California’s classrooms and make it even harder for the state’s struggling students to receive a quality education.

Last year, the California Department of Education released the first draft of a new curriculum framework for K-12 mathematics, which would guide teaching in the classroom.

The first draft was widely criticized for politicizing math instruction by inserting “environmental and social justice” into the math curriculum, having students solve “problems that result in social inequalities,” and rejecting the notion that math is a “neutral discipline.”

Because of intense backlash, including an open letter signed by more than 1,200 mathematicians, scientists, and education leaders, the first draft was pulled back. But now, a second draft has been released and it is still filled with woke concepts and prescriptions.

The second draft says that the goal of teaching math will be to “promote racial justice.” Indeed, five of the 14 chapters of the framework are focused on equity, with the CDE saying that “equity influences all aspects of this document.”

This emphasis on “equity” is highly concerning because there is a big difference between “equity” and “equality.”

As University of Chicago Professor Charles Lipson has pointed out: “Equality means equal treatment, unbiased competition and impartially judged outcomes. Equity means equal outcomes, achieved if necessary by unequal treatment, biased competition and preferential judging.”

Frank Xu, president of Californians for Equal Rights Foundation, warns that the “new math framework is wrapped in equity,” with the goal to “lower standards in the name of equal outcomes, which could have disastrous ramifications on the quality of public education.”

One troubling teaching method recommended by the framework is trauma-induced pedagogy.

According to Williamson Evers, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education for policy, and Ze’ev Wurman, a former senior policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, trauma-induced pedagogy “is the idea that students are disabled emotionally by a racist, sexist, violent society ruled by a capitalist class and that therefore teaching should be therapeutic.”

“Such teacher-therapists often conclude that their teaching should encourage resistance to society’s institutions,” observe Evers and Wurman, who both worked in the George W. Bush administration.

Further, despite the CDE tweaking a few things from the first draft, Evers and Wurman say that the second draft of the framework “is still highly politicized,” with teachers still asked to promote “sociopolitical consciousness” among students and push a “justice-oriented perspective” at all grade levels.

Infusing math instruction with a highly politicized ideology will only worsen California’s poor student math performance.

For example, 63 percent of Ventura County students failed to meet grade-level standards on the 2020-21 state math test. Statewide, 66 percent of California students failed to meet grade-level standards on the math exam.

By focusing on politics and ideology, rather than on mathematical computational excellence, the framework deprives students of the tools and learning they will need to succeed in math and, subsequently, in the workplace.

Indeed, since the framework emphasizes ideological teaching methods, Evers and Wurman say, “It will not help those who struggle in math” and will “bring down student achievement.”

In other words, implementing this woke math framework will turn California’s already big math problem into an utter disaster.

California, which is so dependent on STEM-related industries, cannot afford to allow ideology to trump real math learning in the classroom. The state needs competent scientists, engineers, and computer specialists, not woke math illiterates who know their pronouns, but cannot solve an equation.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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