Book shows radical teachers how to mix traditional math with ‘social justice’ political lessons

July 29, 2013

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Ben Velderman Ben Velderman

Ben was a communications specialist for EAG from 2010 until August 2014. He is a former member of the Michigan Education Association.
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MILWAUKEE – It’s said that misery loves company.


Rethinking MathmaticsPerhaps that’s one reason a group of gloomy, radical teachers is trying so hard to poison the minds of the nation’s K-12 students with their anti-American, anti-free market ideas.

They’re miserable living in “the land of the free,” and want others to share their pain.

The educators are part of Rethinking Schools, an organization that’s been sneaking left-wing “social justice” lessons into America’s K-12 classrooms for nearly three decades.

The group’s latest effort to indoctrinate the nation’s youth is a 286-page book aimed at teachers, titled “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers.” The book is a mix of math lesson plans and essays from activist educators who explain how they’ve used their classrooms to advance a progressive political philosophy.

Two main themes emerge from the pages of “Rethinking Mathematics.”

The first is that the U.S. is a hopelessly racist country that routinely oppresses “people of color.”

This message is conveyed through lessons and essays about racial profiling, environmental racism, unfair mortgage lending practices of Big Banks, the “overabundance of liquor stores” in minority communities, and slave-owning U.S. presidents.

The book’s other major theme is that capitalism’s unequal distribution of wealth is the root cause of the world’s suffering. Students learn to despise free market economics in lessons about third-world sweatshops, “living wage” laws, the earnings of fast food workers and restaurant CEOs, and the “hidden” costs of meat production.

All of this sounds like material from a college sociology textbook. What could it possibly have to do with mathematics?

As the “Rethinking” teachers demonstrate, the math concepts of ratios, averages, percentages, bar graphs, density and geometric formulas are very useful when training kids to see the world in their preferred categories of “haves” and “have nots.”

‘Reading the world’

The ideas contained in “Rethinking Mathematics” are based on the principles popularized by Paulo Freire, the late South American radical educator.

Freire believed the purpose of education is to help students understand the historical and political forces at work in the world. He referred to this as “reading the world.”

According to Freire’s theory, students must understand how the world’s systems work to oppress the masses before they can reform those systems.

That’s exactly the motivation behind “Rethinking Mathematics.”

In a chapter titled, “Write the Truth: Presidents and Slaves,” “Rethinking” editor and Milwaukee teachers union President Bob Peterson explains how he used Freire’s approach with his fifth-grade students:

“Specific objectives for this mini-unit (about slave-owning U.S. presidents), such as reviewing the use of percentages, emerged as the lessons unfolded. But its main purpose was to help students critically examine the actions of early leaders of the United States and become skeptical of textbooks and government websites as sources that present the entire picture.

“I figure that if kids start questioning the ‘official story’ early on, they will be more open to alternative viewpoints later on. While discovering which presidents were slave owners is not an in-depth analysis, it pokes an important hole in the godlike mystique that surrounds the ‘founding fathers.’”

Peterson’s strategy is clear: Teach students that America was founded by – and for – racists, and they will support radicals’ efforts to transform the American system.

In other words, if students are taught that the constitutional principles of private property ownership and free market capitalism are merely tools white people use to oppress “people of color,” they’ll eventually demand a socialist form of government.

And that would please the “Rethinking Schools” folks very much.

Students learn ‘to fight the bigger people out there’

These radical teachers clearly have an ambitious agenda, but are they succeeding in their attempts to turn the upcoming generation of American leaders against their country’s long-held ideals?

Yes, they are – at least according to the teacher testimonials in “Rethinking Mathematics.”

Eric (Rico) Gutstein – a “Rethinking” editor and occasional public school teacher – recounts how his students reacted to a lesson about the math (and perceived subtle racism) behind mapmaking.

After a class discussion about the Mercator map – which, for various and legitimate reasons, distorts the size of the continents – one student had an epiphany about why the map is so popular in schools.

“I guess that’s because they wanted to teach (that) all Americans (are) superior and that all whites are better and superior than us (brown or lightly toasted, hardly white and Mexican),” wrote Elena, in a reflective essay. “We were always taught that we were a minority and didn’t deserve anything.”

Another student, Marisol, said the Mercator map lesson “makes me think what other wrong information we have been given since childhood. It makes you doubt your social studies book, history written by the white people.”

Talk about literally “reading the world” in a left-wing way.

In a chapter titled, “Whose Community Is This?” Gutstein discusses a lesson he taught high school seniors about Big Banks, subprime mortgages and minority communities.

After the lesson was over, one student concluded “black and brown” communities need to set aside their differences and “unite” to “fight the bigger people out there.”

In another chapter, geometry teacher Andrew Brantlinger chronicles how he turned an ordinary lesson about calculating the area of a circle into an analysis of the South Central Los Angeles community that rioted after the 1992 “Rodney King” verdict.

During Brantlinger’s lesson, students learned that in 1992, South Central L.A. had no movie theaters or community centers, but it had 640 liquor stores. That led one student to conclude, “All they want them to do is drink.” (Brantlinger says he didn’t ask the student who “they” were.)

According to Brantlinger, most students decided, “We should have more jobs and more community centers, then you wouldn’t have to worry about riots,” and “The government should put more money in (South Central).”

“Rethinking Mathematics” is filled with similar anecdotes, all of which suggest activist teachers are transforming an untold number of our students into future “change agents.”

In their introduction, editors Peterson and Gutstein acknowledge that some school administrators and parents won’t like this radical approach to math education. But they advise social justice teachers to make no apologies for their efforts.

“A social justice approach to math is the appropriate type of math for these unjust times,” they write. “Other, traditional forms of math are often too abstract, promote student failure and self-doubt, and, frankly, are immoral in a world as unjust as ours. Traditional math is bad for students and bad for society.”

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