Issues & Insights

Sorry, Virginia, There’s No Math-Equity Claus

"Math class is hard." Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay, under Pixabay license (https://pixabay.com/service/license/).

Virginia state education bureaucrats have proposed a major overhaul of the math curriculum for grades K-10. This plan has been affected by the Utopianism of a confused, narrow-minded and dogmatic age. It seeks to introduce principles of equity in course offerings and teachings. Other states are developing similar plans, whereby  math curriculum learning standards stress equity as the overarching goal.  But, in reality, there is no “Equity Claus” for math.

Look dear child Virginia, here’s what could happen with the current Virginia Math Pathways Initiative (VMPI), and in many other states following the “new thinking” about math education.

Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II will be blended into a “seamless learning experience”. High school math credits will span 5 areas, but only one of these covers functions and algebra. A few one-credit course options may be given for advanced placement.

Looks like this blend is pretty watered down, Virginia.

According to Virginia’s state school superintendent, accelerated courses are not going away, but what exactly they are isn’t clear. The superintendent says that if a student “needs” advanced courses, he gets them.

Yes, Virginia, we are faced with need-based learning, which rarely ever refers to higher skill-sets and preferences — or excellence. I am skeptical of such thinking and context.

Believe in math-equity, Virginia? You might as well believe in fairies. No, instead, we should strongly believe in math excellence. What would the world be like without this excellence?

For example, algebra takes the student from the known, things that are, to the unknown, the mysterious X, through a series of demanding logical steps. This trains the inquiring mind. Without such minds, life might be as unfulfilling and unpleasant as if there were no Virginias! There’d be no innovation, no discovery, no invention, no progress. Life would be a big bowl of coal.

The new curriculum seeks to relate math to real life, but does solving this kind of problem lead to excellence? “Compare how much time you spend grooming yourself to the national average.” 

Virginia, in my many decades of teaching engineering and science students, I often assigned a short paper on the matter of learning mathematics. In these papers, I have found hundreds and hundreds of testaments that show equity, equality of outcomes, is not found in math studies.

Lets look at just a few of these comments. (Of course, names have been changed for individual protection!)

Bett Dancer said, “Math is logical, there is only one answer to a question, whereas in other subjects, like literature or writing, your opinions or answers are not always correct, but there is no logical reason why they aren’t.” Very perceptive Bett.

Ben Blitzen added, “I was able to do math problems in pre-K before I spoke a single word in English.” Blitzen came to the U.S. as a baby, but in his case, he effortlessly picked up on the universal language of math.

Markie Donner reported, “I never studied  for math till I got to Calculus. By age 9, working with numbers had become a reflex for me. Math had become instinctive.”

These statements represent outcomes. It would appear that there is  some validity to the theory that math ability may be innate. This is not to say that skills can’t be improved. Not at all, but equity, equality of outcomes, will not be achieved except at the expense of excellence. And, this means lowering the bar for all.

So, Virginia, there is a danger lurking in these potential reforms of math education.

For one thing, we may lose the progress we have made in opening up engineering careers to women. Nowadays, women represent a considerable percentage of college sci-tech students. Do we want to risk  going back to 1992 when a Teen Talk Barbie doll would say, oooh, “Math Class is Tough”? You’ve come a long way since then.

Sorry, Virginia, there is no math-equity claus. Not in the Constitution, not in The Declaration of Independence, not in nature, and not in school. What we do have is equality of opportunity to do your individual best and we must seek to provide that to all. Anything else is just a vision of sugar plums dancing in your head.

Silvio Laccetti is a national columnist and retired professor of social science at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

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2 comments

  • Math, like education itself, is not a social principle “An Sich”, it’s preparation for adulthood.

    The final arbiters of shenanigans like this, predictably, will be the employers; they are not interested in the social awareness of an applicants but in how ably he can flip them burger patties.

    The only principle that ever matters is not to ignore unforeseen consequences.

  • They yearn for more Florida Bimbo Bridges. After all, that one only killed six people. They aspire to much higher body counts!!!

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