A round-up of alarming articles about U.S. math education

I’ve been meaning to write a post on these four articles, recently shared by Ling Huang on a math education email list I’m part of.

In his very powerful piece The Two-Front War on Academic Standards, Maxwell Meyer opens with a quote from Kurt Vonnegut’s short story “Harrison Bergeron” (a story I last read about a century before its setting):

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Our version of the 21st century is more (or is it less?) black and white. In There Is No Such Thing as “White” Math, Princeton Professor Sergiu Klainerman writes:

The idea that focusing on getting the “right answer” is now considered among some self-described progressives a form of bias or racism is offensive and extraordinarily dangerous. The entire study of mathematics is based on clearly formulated definitions and statements of fact. If this were not so, bridges would collapse, planes would fall from the sky, and bank transactions would be impossible.

Few people want to address the real problem, even though it is staring us in the face. As Percy Deift, Svetlana Jitomirskaya, and Sergiu Klainerman write regarding racial equity in mathematics in America Is Flunking Math:

This lack of representation is real and very serious, but the report, while raising awareness of several ugly facts from the long-ago past, makes little effort to address the real reasons for this, mainly the catastrophic failure of the K-12 mathematical educational system.

(Bold-face mine).

A second article by Deift, Jitomirskaya, and Klainerman, As US Schools Prioritize Diversity Over Merit, China Is Becoming the World’s STEM Leader, has me wondering about the Darwinian struggle between political systems:

Chinese universities are now actively attracting senior Chinese, US, and European scientists to their faculty. (And unlike their American institutional counterparts, they recruit on the merit principle, unhampered by ideologically dictated diversity mandates.) In some cases, we are seeing prominent mathematicians at good or even top US schools moving to Peking and Tsinghua Universities after long and successful US careers. Many of these scholars are Chinese, but some are not.

Will merit-based autocracies ultimately win out over equity obsessed democracies?

Of course, true equity is pretty much the opposite of what’s long been going on throughout U.S. K-12.

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