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Professor claims “meritocracy” in math class is a “tool of whiteness”

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CUNY Professor Laurie Rubel has published a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Mathematics Education arguing that the concept of meritocracy in math holds back racial minorities and is a tool of “whiteness”.

The report has unleashed an angry response online.

But what is “meritocracy” and why are people getting so worked up about it?

Since meritocracy is a form of social system in which power goes to those with superior intellects, it means that those who perform the best in math will automatically achieve the highest positions in society.

And since certain minorities struggle with math, this system works to exclude them from advancement in their careers and life.

Rubel wrote that math teachers who claim to be color-blind are not doing the minority students any favors, reports Fox News.

This is crazy. So even if a teacher treats all students as equal, Rubel says they are discriminating.

The professor wrote: “By claiming not to notice, the teacher is saying that she is dismissing one of the most salient features of the child’s identity and that she does not account for it in her curricular planning and instruction.”

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So even if a teacher is “color-blind” it works against minorities as far as Rubel is concerned.

In other words, if a teacher sees all students as equal and simply grades math courses based on the actual math they are producing, Rubel see them as acting like racists!

There no doubt that minorities face a lot of barriers in education and that must always be addressed, but math is math. You either have an ability to do it or not.

In fact, math has been the bane of many a student throughout the ages and in all cultures.

You can almost divide the human race in two groups: those who get math and those who don’t. Why now make it another political issue?

What is the implication of Rubel’s comments? Does she advocate for lower standards so more people can score high marks?

What about remedial classes for everyone that struggles? Wouldn’t that be simple and fair?


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Traditionally math has always been the one subject that separates the very smart people from the rest of us. Rightly or wrongly.

Many see math as a pure intellectual pursuit, not as something of privilege in itself. Math itself is neutral: for the most part you either grasp it or you struggle with it.

I don’t remember ever thinking that since Joan is brilliant at math and I am not, she’s going to get more benefits in life. I realized that if she applied herself she’d probably get to the top of her chosen career, and I envied her because it seemed so easy for her.

At the time I simply accepted that math is not my best thing and got on with my life. So did the rest of the class.

Since then, I have learned that nothing comes easy in life and that you still have to work hard and face setbacks no matter how smart you are.

Geniuses like Jona also have their challenges.

Where does that leave minorities like people of color who struggle with math?

I think the reason for Rubel’s article was partly to look at that question and why this group has a problem with math. As a group, why do they struggle?

Well, writing from a South African perspective, I have noticed that as a group, blacks are extremely musical and sing and dance like few white people can. More of them are also polyglots. I have met numerous black people who think there’s nothing special in speaking seven or eight languages.

Now, how am I supposed to feel about that? Underprivileged? They clearly have a natural ability that I and many white people lack. So what?

Maybe the answer is simply that certain groups have certain talents. Maybe we should consider accepting that and not turn our different abilities into something that separates us.

Written by Coert Engels

I'm a South African based writer and am passionate about exploring the latest ideas in artificial intelligence, robotics and nanotechnology. I also focus on the human condition, with a particular interest human intuition and creativity. To share some feedback about my articles, email me at [email protected]

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