Black Folk Can Do Math

In his latest grenade, John McWhorter unloads on the math curriculum update proposal that’s been produced by the Gates Foundation, taken seriously in school districts all over the country, and promoted by at least one state—Oregon:

There are two things. Racism and religion. Just those.

As in, first it is racism propounded as antiracism. Black kids shouldn’t expected to master the precision of math and should be celebrated for talking around it, gamely approximating its answers and saying why it can be dangerous? This is bigotry right out of Reconstruction, Tulsa, Selma, and Charlottesville.

Second, it is not science but scripture. It claims to be about teaching math while founded on shielding students from the requirement to actually do it. This is unempirical. It does so with an implication that only a moral transgressor numb to some larger point would question the contradiction. This is, as such, a religious document, telling you to accept that Jesus walked on water.

Humans may grievously sacrifice the 9-year-old, the virgin, or the widow upon the pyre in worship of a God. Too, humans may sacrifice the black kid from the work of mastering the gift of math, in favor of showing that they are enlightened enough to understand that her life may be affected by racism and that therefore she should be shielded from anything that is a genuine challenge.

This is not pedagogy; it is preaching.

For those who believe this report is inconsequential and just a cause célèbre for right-wingers I would submit that a) at least one state is promoting it and b) John McWhorter is no right-winger. So, not inconsequential.

If adopted such a curriculum would tarnish the futures of an entire cohort of young students. What’s important in science and engineering is not your intentions or your history but whether the chemical process you’ve designed explodes or produces polystyrene, whether the rocket actually gets to the moon, whether the bridge falls down, or the patient recovers. And China, Japan, and India will not be burdened with such claptrap.

This all sounds to me like the revenge of people who couldn’t do math.

The tragedy of it is that my experience, at least, is that black folk can do math. Some excel at it. Shielding them from it to end white supremacy is shielding them from what they can and what they need to succeed in the interests of, what? Patronization?

8 comments… add one
  • Jolly Jones Link

    It is one thing to say. “Honey you’re too dumb to learn math and we will arrange for an alternative curriculum to conform to your ability.” It is quite another to consign a whole genetic group to the dust pile of stupidity as if a whole genetic group is a monolith. Talk about naked racism.

  • bob sykes Link

    Even some engineering students have trouble with advanced mathematics like partial differential equations, probability and statistics. They drift into less mathematical areas, like construction or transportation. (But even some parts of those areas are heavily mathematical: scheduling, estimating, critical paths, failure trees, routing…) However, we don’t prevent them from learning as much mathematics as they can and can use. And we don’t pretend mathematics is just the self-serving opinion of white racists.

    These lunatics are destroying the intellectual development of all children, blacks, whites, asian… Any child unfortunate enough to be subject to the lunacy.

    Russia produces twice as many engineers per caput as we do, and China does even more. Both countries have serious engineering schools that emphasize mathematics more than we do. They don’t allow lunatics to destroy the futures of their children.

    This country is falling apart before our eyes. Critical Race Theory not only destroys the minds of everyone exposed to it, all races, both sexes, it actively breaks down the social bond that permit the US to survive as a country. Those Oregon school boards are actively fomenting civil war and economic collapse. They should be in cages.

  • steve Link

    He doesnt actually say that Oregon adopted this, just that they are considering it. Sounds to me like the revenge of the language arts majors. I think lots of black people can do math AND lots of black people wouldnt have much use for a program like this so dont see it taking off.


  • Grey Shambler Link

    Sounds like trying to improve graduation rates, and Federal funding.
    No Child Left Behind.

  • Drew Link

    “They drift into less mathematical areas, like construction or transportation.”

    Or, egad, physical chemistry.

  • Grey Shambler Link

    It may very well be true they can’t do math given the educational environment that they have available to them.
    Mathematic knowledge is built over many years of effort upon a solid foundation of algebra and calculus. Fall behind and you’re done.

  • Jon Link

    “Hidden Figures”

    Didn’t NASA rename a building for a black women known for her math skills that required accurate numbers needed for space flight?

  • TastyBits Link

    I have never met a black person that could not do math. (Of course, I have never met a black person without an ID.)

    One thing that could be racist is word problems: “If 2 black men rape 3 white women per day, …” They could also be cultural: “If Etienne takes his pirogue 3 miles up the bayou, …”

    I think another argument being made by some people is about the application of math – statistics. If I understand correctly, these people claim math is racist because it has been used to support racist arguments.

    Then, there is the math grade/score outcome argument. When it was girls lagging in math, it was not deemed sexist. A lot of old people are lagging as well. Maybe, math is ageist, as well.

    Next, structural soundness will be racist. Only a racist would refuse to drive over a bridge engineered with intersectional math.

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