In the Middle. Once again, I find myself in the middle between two extremes of a socially sensitive conflict. On the one hand, the awakening following the George Floyd incident has benefits, but I believe “woke” has gone too far. On the other hand, some responses to “wokeness” have also gone too far.
Woke Too Far. In my opinion, the claims that Mathematics is white supremacy and white privilege are overreaching.
For example, Rochelle Gutierrez, a University of Illinois faculty member offered the following: “On many levels mathematics operates as whiteness.” I asked google what is whiteness? The response I got was –”the practices of Whiteness are visible systems of whiteness that white people use to maintain power to benefit only white people.” I fail to see how Math is a system used by white people to maintain power only for white people.
Laurie Rubel, faculty member at Columbia University offered the following: “2+2 = 4 reeks of white supremist patriarchy.” I personally fail to get a bad smell from 2+2.
Even a state education department has gotten into the act: “The Oregon Department of Education (ODE) recently encouraged teachers to register for training that encourages ‘ethnomathematics’ and argues, among other things, that White supremacy manifests itself in the focus on finding the right answer.”
You can read an entire article on the movement at Oregon Promotes Teacher Program That Seeks to Undo ‘Racism in Mathematics’ – American Renaissance (amren.com)
Jeny, my dearly beloved, former math teacher was shocked by all these claims. I was also. I do not see white supremacy or privilege in mathematics and certainly not in trying to arrive at the correct answer.
One of the happy benefits of learning Black history in my lifetime is the work of the women in the movie, “Hidden Figures.” The math genius of three black women, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson was on full display. Needless to say, they were using math to find “the correct answer” and not looking for multiple answers to fight white supremacy. They faced prejudice, but it was not mathematics that held prejudice against them.
In addition to major influences by black females. in my experience, people with brown (not white) skins play a major role in mathematics today. Men and women from several Asian heritages play major roles in mathematics, statistics and the sciences using mathematics. Standardized testing supports the interest in mathematics by people of Asian heritage.
I had a nightmare about the issue. I am not joking; I actually had this dream.
I dreamed I confronted someone making the claim that math is racist. I came up with the ridiculous idea that mathematics is not racist because the numbers are overwhelmingly written in black ink. The numbers should only be 14% black.
Rather than see the absurdity, the person said “you are correct because racists have made almost all of the pages white.” They proposed the government should require 14% of pages in books be Black, 60% white and 26 % brown. The print should reflect the same distribution.
I pointed out that distribution would mean some white pages would have white print. They responded that proper distribution was more important than content.
One final note, Math is not the only discipline taking a woke beating. The Rutgers University English department has declared teaching proper English is racist.
Anti Woke Too Far. On the other hand, reactions against wokeness have included attacks on tenure and academic freedom, book bans, as well as speaking and course cancelations. Some people have expressed the desire to not teach aspect of history that might upset or frighten students.
A good example of singular rhetoric rather that thoughtful analysis is shown in the following quote: “We reject this woke ideology. “We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy! We will not allow reality, facts, and truth to become optional. We will never surrender to the woke mob. Florida is where woke goes to die!” Governor DeSantis made the latter statement. I would like to understand how NOT allowing discussions of Black History is the pursuit of reality, facts and truth. In my opinion his statement is a knee-jerk political-pandering response to a complex issue. We need to have deeper approaches to the problems of wokeness.
I have no doubt, some of the reactions against “woke” are justified, but in my opinion, too many reactions are based on fear, politics and self-righteousness.
The Middle. I want my criticism of wokeness to be thoughtful not a knee jerk reaction. In this regard, a good friend and reader of this blog made me aware of John McWhorter.
McWhorter is a brilliant black linguistic professor at Columbia University. He wrote “Woke Racism: How a new religion betrayed Black America.” A self-proclaimed “Cranky liberal Democrat,” he is a critic of aspects of wokeness while maintaining support for the struggle for justice. That is music to my heart. The issue is more complex than either of the two extremes would make it seem.
An example of his thinking: “… But we’ve gotten to the point that we’re so focused on what people say and how they say it that we’re paying more attention to that than to the perhaps less glamorous work of getting out on the ground and trying to change society.”
You can learn more about him at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_McWhorter.
I have ordered his book. I will let you know what I learn.
Great Vacations: Last week I wrote of a special trip Jeny and I took to countries in southern Africa.
I was happy about improved conditions for rhinos. Unfortunately, this week the news is not as good, as I read bad news about rhinos:
Misinformation continues to endanger Rhinos as it does all of us.
Earthquakes. On another special trip, a Mediterranean cruise, Jeny and I disembarked and visited Ephesus in Turkey. We traveled from our ship several miles inland to Ephesus. We got out of the bus at the top of a hill and made our way down through the remains of the town. The guide was quite good, the archaeology and history were very interesting. At the bottom of the hill, we were shown the colosseum where the Apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesians.
The guide then pointed to a broad space and said it was the marketplace, the agora. Then he pointed to the end of the marketplace and said “there was the port.”
I was shocked. What port? How could that be? We had just bused several miles inland.
In the 2000 years since Paul was in Ephesus earthquakes and other geological activities had made big changes to the topography. The port was gone.
I was reminded of that story when I learned of the very tragic earthquake in Syria and Turkey this week. The United States has been blessed, but someday the Yellowstone Caldera may erupt, or the San Andreas fault cause a terrible earthquake. I dread the results. Until then, I intend to be thankful every day for the privilege of where I live.
Human love at its best. If you take the time to read you will be touched by kindness. I cried when I read them.