Many signers are left-supporting professors, who are now beginning taste the toxicity of the fruits of the Woke Tree.
In the first half of 2021, we reported that the California Board of Education proposed eliminating calculus and revising its mathematics curriculum to make it more…equitable.
Subsequently, there was a backlash tsunami from the state’s parents, whose children will eventually have to compete for colleges and jobs in the real world. The board then paused its implementation.
Most Americans understand that a strong foundation in mathematics is essential for success in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Our society needs competent and qualified professionals in all these fields to be a prosperous nation and the ability to keep our infrastructure up and our defense capabilities strong.
Furthermore, a population with a good understanding of statistics and analysis techniques is less likely to be bamboozled by bureaucrats who manipulate facts to create crises that only their organizations can solve (of course, with more funding and power). As I noted in a conversation during the recent San Diego Legal Insurrection meet-up, we are not well served when journalists and members of the media are ignorant of basic math and science, as they are apt to parrot whatever any “expert” says and fail to distinguish between “misinformation” and accurate data that contradicts the preferred political narrative.
With all of this in mind, it is understandable that many STEM professionals are very concerned about recent educational trends that are focused more on social justice than hard science or even basic math skills. Theoretical computer scientists Boaz Barak of Harvard and Edith Cohen of Google, and other leading quantitative scientists, have prepared an open letter sounding the alarm over the gutting of US math education in K-12.
The group explicitly cites the California Mathematics Framework (CMF) and boasts over 500 signatories.
…We are deeply concerned about the unintended consequences of recent well-intentioned approaches to reform mathematics education, particularly the California Mathematics Framework (CMF). Such frameworks aim to reduce achievement gaps by limiting the availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers. While such reforms superficially seem “successful” at reducing disparities at the high school level, they are merely “kicking the can” to college. While it is possible to succeed in STEM at college without taking advanced courses in high school, it is more challenging. College students who need to spend their early years taking introductory math courses may require more time to graduate. They may need to give up other opportunities and are more likely to struggle academically. Such a reform would disadvantage K-12 public school students in the United States compared with their international and private-school peers. It may lead to a de facto privatization of advanced mathematics K-12 education and disproportionately harm students with fewer resources.
Another deeply worrisome trend is devaluing essential mathematical tools such as calculus and algebra in favor of seemingly more modern “data science.” As STEM professionals and educators we should be sympathetic to this approach, and yet, we reject it wholeheartedly. The ability to gather and analyze massive amounts of data is indeed transforming our society. But “data science” – computer science, statistics, and artificial intelligence- is built on the foundations of algebra, calculus, and logical thinking. While these mathematical fields are centuries old and sometimes more, they are arguably even more critical for today’s grand challenges than in the Sputnik era.
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board also featured the letter. At that time, there were already over 500 signatories. The board highlighted that the CMF quest for “equity” hurt minority groups.
The board also noted many signers are left-supporting professors who are now beginning to taste the toxicity of the fruits of the Woke Tree.
The scientists delicately describe the politicized erosion of standards as “well-intentioned approaches to reform mathematics education.” They zero in on the California Department of Education’s proposed new math framework, which encourages math teachers to take a “justice-oriented perspective.” The signatories say the course roadmap will reduce the “availability of advanced mathematical courses to middle schoolers and beginning high schoolers” and discourage students from taking calculus.
This is supposed to advance “equity.” But in addition to damaging America’s global competitiveness, the letter says, the decline of rigorous math in public schools “may lead to a de facto privatization” of top-tier instruction and “harm students with fewer resources.”
The growing list of 471 signatories includes four winners of the Fields Medal in math; two winners of the Turing Award in computing; a Nobel laureate in physics and another in chemistry; 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences; and faculty at Stanford, Berkeley, CalTech, MIT and every top U.S. university for hard science.
No doubt many if not most in this group are politically left of center. But they warn against the elevation of “trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills” like algebra and calculus. Those disciplines “are centuries old and sometimes more,” the letter says, but “arguably even more critical for today’s grand challenges than in the Sputnik era.”
Perhaps in addition to signing this letter, these professors might begin helping make campus climates a little friendlier to conservatives who have been warning about this trend for quite some time.DONATE
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