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In the world of ETHNOMATHEMATICS, 2+2=oppression and ‘achievement’ is a white supremacist construct

Helen Buyniski
Helen Buyniski

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

In the world of ETHNOMATHEMATICS, 2+2=oppression and ‘achievement’ is a white supremacist construct
Injecting ‘social justice’ into every aspect of education is having a disastrous effect on kids’ ability to learn. But what would you expect from a system that considers academic achievement itself a construct of white supremacy?

The ultra-woke educators of Seattle have pioneered the ‘decolonialization’ of education, in the process managing to defeat the purpose of teaching itself. It would be easy to simply mock the logical pretzels these theorists tie themselves into, but they’re imposing their behavioral experiments in competitive navel-gazing on American children, inflicting deep alienation and harming kids’ ability to learn anything at all. Indeed, the latest trend in culturally-aware pedagogy seems to be denouncing the desire to impart knowledge as a colonialist impulse that must be squashed.

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The so-called ‘achievement gap’ – the academic divide between poor and minority children and their better-off, whiter counterparts – has long been the subject of hand-wringing among educators. With each failed strategy, progressive teachers return to the drawing board, determined to further plumb the depths of social theory in the hope that the next solution – ethnomathematics? decolonizing science? – will be the magic bullet that puts all students on an equal footing.

The colonial achievement gap

Led deep into the Twilight Zone by this theoretical spelunking, Seattle’s ethnic studies educators have declared their predecessors had this ‘achievement gap’ thing all wrong. It’s not that minority kids are failing – though thanks to initiatives like Common Core and the maniacal focus on standardized testing at the exclusion of all else, they certainly are, in greater numbers than ever. No, it’s that teachers are wrongfully imposing colonial constructs like ‘knowledge’ and ‘learning’ on them.

The only way to truly decolonialize the classroom is for the teacher to dispense with white supremacist notions of achievement and opportunity, according to Tracy Castro-Gill, a Seattle ethnic studies instructor who prides herself on exclusively bullying white people (seriously). Because closing opportunity gaps is often measured in improved test scores, Castro-Gill reasons, the very concept of such gaps – like standardized tests themselves – must be racist.

Closing ‘Achievement/Opportunity’ gaps is a Western way of thinking about education. It’s linear and views students as lacking something and needing to be turned into some ideal, which is defined by white supremacy.

This isn’t just because kids who fall behind in reading and math are encouraged (“and their parents are coerced,” Castro-Gill says) to undergo tutoring to bring them up to speed, taking up free time that could otherwise be used in “enrichment programs like underwater robotics, urban arts, and the gender and sexuality alliance” (never mind that one can’t build functional robots, aquatic or otherwise, without a solid grasp of mathematics). Expecting kids to have a working knowledge of numbers and letters is itself participating in a system of oppression.

It’s not failure, it’s ‘space for reflection’

How perfect then, that when these ideas are put into practice, they lead to poor academic performance. The Seattle school district implemented an ‘ethnomathematics’ curriculum last year, described to the public as an effort to “rehumanize” math by using real-world problem solving to keep students engaged. In reality, the plan proposed to teach students how “western mathematics… dictates economic oppression and is used to marginalize people of color” – and it was adopted districtwide even after the high schools that piloted the program reported a shocking 21 percent overall drop in math scores. 

According to Castro-Gill, this is a feature, not a bug – “space for reflection,” not academic excellence, is the goal.

It’s not just Seattle, either. Rutgers University math education grad student Brittany Marshall ignited a Twitter firestorm when she said “the idea of 2+2 equaling 4 is cultural,” but numerous other teachers - including a shadowy group calling itself the MathEdCollective - came to her defense.

Those who aren’t on board with this reimagining of the building blocks of education as oppressive tools of the colonizer are expected to keep quiet. One official, speaking to Education Week when Seattle’s program was rolled out, praised the goal of helping “students of color” feel “included” in math class, but warned the new method would do just the opposite.

An excuse to destroy the public school system

While ‘the Left’ is often blamed for the excesses of social justice theory, the more politically-aware leftists see programs like Seattle’s ethnomathematics as a cynical attempt to give social-justice cover to the total evisceration of the public schooling system. After all, who needs skilled teachers if the very act of imparting knowledge is oppressive? Indeed, who needs paid teachers at all? Why not just rope in a bunch of volunteer ‘facilitators’ – ‘community members’ who can be paid a token sum – and dispense with those pesky teachers’ unions completely?

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Just as Black Lives Matter’s focus on racial divisions perpetuates the ruling power structure by dividing the working class, ethnomathematics and other efforts to shoehorn divisive ‘social justice’ jargon into public school curricula prevent the development of any class consciousness among youth. The achievement gap, after all, is much more a function of socioeconomic status than of racial or ethnic background.

Few educators would contest that the American school system is broken, focusing too much on testing while failing to impart critical thinking ability and squelching intellectual curiosity. However, sidelining the very idea of academic achievement only ensures that system will never recover.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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