Saturday, August 13, 2011

Indoctrination Fridays With Social Justice Math

Those of us who attended public schools before “social justice” spread through the curriculum like a bad infection probably remember sitting in math class and working through problems such as this one:
Leroy has one quarter, one dime, one nickel, and one penny. Two of the coins are in his left pocket and the other two coins are in his right pocket. The coins have been randomly placed in the two pockets.

What is the probability that Leroy will be able to purchase a 30-cent candy bar with the two coins in his left pocket? Using the coins, explain your reasoning.

We didn’t know it at the time, but while we busily charted all of Leroy’s different coin combinations, we were actually being taught to tacitly approve of America’s exploitative capitalistic system.

Think that’s taking things a bit too far?

Read the words of a “fair trade” blogger and judge for yourself:
“Did you know that child slavery is a common practice on cocoa farms in Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest supplier of cocoa beans? Don’t feel too bad if you didn’t know – I didn’t either until a few days ago. But now I know and so do you. I’m a huge chocoholic but now there is no enjoying a non-fair trade bar of chocolate, knowing a child may have been forced to pick the beans. There’s no going back. … Picking cocoa beans is hard and dangerous work. It takes 400 beans to produce a pound of chocolate so these kids work long and hard to get enough cocoa for even a few bars. No wonder most chocolate bars are so cheap and fair trade chocolate is so expensive.”

The average American “oppressor” would say that the correct answer to sample problem is, “Leroy has a one-in-three chance of having the right combination of coins in his pocket to buy the candy bar.”

But according to the social justice crowd, the correct answer should be, “Leroy is contributing to the oppression of the cocoa bean pickers of the world by purchasing a non-fair trade candy bar.”(Students who suggest charging Leroy with a hate crime would be given extra credit.)

Proponents of incorporating social justice issues into math lessons argue that to ignore the child labor that was used to help produce the candy bar is to blind students to the plight of the cocoa bean pickers. Math, therefore, is perpetuating the problem.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to the words of Paulo Freire, one of the pioneers of bringing social justice lessons into the classroom. Freire has said that "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral."

That sentiment is echoed throughout “The Guide for Integrating Issues of Social and Economic Justice into Mathematics Curriculum,” by Jonathan Osler. In his guide, Osler writes:
“ … [T]he systemic and structural oppression of low income and people of color in the United States is worsening. The number of people in prison continues to grow, as do unemployment rates. Billions of dollars that were once available for social programs and education have been diverted to pay for war. …

“These problems and many others are being addressed by community organizations and activists, and often find their way into assignments in Social Studies and English classes. However, in math classes around the country, perhaps the best places to study many of these issues, we continue to use curricula and models that lack any real-world, let alone socially relevant, contexts. A great opportunity to educate our young people about understanding and addressing these myriad issues continues to be squandered.”
The purpose of Osler’s guide is to provide ways in which teachers can bring social justice topics into their lesson plans.

For example, Osler suggests that a lesson about mathematical averages can used to critique the US’s war in Iraq. Students can “take casualty data for the past 12 months and calculate a monthly average from the perspective (of) a military recruiter and from an anti-war activist.”

Instead of discussing random coins in pockets, probability lessons can be used to raise awareness of racial profiling by exploring “the probability that a traffic stop should be (and is) a person of color.”

Geometry lessons can be used to “look at how many liquor stores/fast food chains are within a 1-mile radius or within 5 blocks of your schools. This can be compared with schools in other neighborhoods.” Better still is a geometry lesson that tackles “environmental racism” by having students “determine the density of toxic waste facilities, factories, dumps, etc. in the neighborhood.”

Lessons about war budgets, incarceration rates, AIDS cases and homelessness are also identified.

The social justice crowd knows that many Americans still cling to the antiquated notion that math teachers should stick to teaching students about math and not politics. Osler answers that criticism by arguing:
“Our classrooms are politicized spaces before we walk in the door because political parties in our country are dictating what should and should not be happening in our classrooms. What we’re supposed to teach, and how we’re supposed to teach it, has been predetermined by someone with a political agenda. My goal is to provide my students with varied sources of information and support them in coming to their own conclusions.”

Osler isn’t finished. He concedes that math can be used to help people, but argues:
“ … [M]ore often it has been used to hurt them. Math was behind the development of nuclear weapons. It is used to maintain an economic divide between a handful of wealthy, White people and the billions of poor people of color around the world. It is used as a rationale for depriving people of access to cheap, life-saving drugs. So my question is: what good has the progress of mathematics as an intellectual discipline done for people? Maybe if our mathematics had a background in social justice, we wouldn’t have so many people suffering around the world.”

There was a time when math class existed to train the next generation of engineers and researchers. Now, math class is being used to inspire the next generation of social activists and community organizers.

That is why it is not surprising that in 2009, only 40 percent of fourth graders had math skills that rated as proficient or advanced, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Even worse, only 32 percent of eighth grade math students tests at those levels.

Americans are continually reminded that “the Earth is flat,” meaning our economy is so entwined with the global economy, that U.S. workers are competing for jobs against workers in China, India and the rest of the world.

Despite these new realities, our public schools are promoting this silly “social justice” curriculum which substitutes the essentials for fuzzy concepts of fairness and equality. This is academic malpractice, and it is the economic equivalent of unilateral disarmament.

The laughter you hear is coming from China.


British university 'cannot be too choosy over postgraduates'

A top university was criticised today after academics were told they “cannot afford to be very choosy” when it comes to recruiting students. Birmingham – a member of the elite Russell Group – came under fire when it emerged a senior don had emailed colleagues telling them to go to desperate lengths to enrol large numbers of lucrative postgraduates.

Prof Helen Beebee, head of Birmingham’s school of philosophy, theology and religion, said more students were needed to avoid being fined by the university for under-recruiting.

In the memo, she urged staff to be “VERY generous” when assessing applications from postgraduate students, suggesting candidates should be given places even if they are not totally up to the demands of the course.

The comments will fuel concerns that universities are being forced to give special treatment to postgraduate and foreign students – who pay far more than British undergraduates – to boost their income.

Most postgraduates at Birmingham can expect to pay at least £4,650 from September, rising to £15,660 for foreign postgraduate students.

But Malcolm McCrae, chairman of the UK Council for Graduate Education, branded the email “unfortunate and ill-considered”, suggesting that students risked being accepted onto courses that they could not handle.

“It is well known that students whose capabilities are not on a par with the demands of the programme they are following always turn out to be much more work, accentuating the pressure to compromise academic standards in an effort to get already recruited students through to...completion," he told Times Higher Education magazine.

Prof Beebee wrote to colleagues at the end of July telling them that Birmingham’s college of arts – which incorporates the school of philosophy – was facing a £1m fine from the university’s finance chiefs for failing to recruit enough students.

The email – leaked to the Times Higher – urges academics to be “VERY generous in your judgement about whether the candidate is capable of undertaking the programme applied for”, adding that “we simply cannot afford to be very choosy”.

Prof Beebee says “NOBODY” should reject a PhD candidate simply on the grounds that they are too busy to closely supervise their work. "If anyone is carrying too high a burden because of increased (postgraduate) recruitment, we will look at ways of reallocating work once the academic year starts," she says.

Birmingham insisted that it had set recruitment targets – alongside financial rewards and penalties for individual department – since 2008.

In a statement, it said: "The University of Birmingham requires very high entry standards from students wishing to undertake postgraduate study. The quality of our postgraduate students is reflected in our standing as a leading global university.

"We make no secret of our ambition to recruit significant numbers of highly-qualified postgraduate students, who meet our entry criteria and whose chosen topics are within a field of expertise of their supervisor.

"We do not permit colleagues to accept students who do not meet our rigorous entry requirements. However we do expect students who meet those requirements to be accepted where possible and provide support to our staff in adjusting their workloads accordingly.

"The university manages its financial and academic resources responsibly. To assist in this it sets targets for a range of activities, including student recruitment. Planning of this kind is usual practice for a research-intensive university with a high level of postgraduate recruitment."

*The Government has been accused of “infantilising” higher education by ordering universities to give students more face-to-face tuition.

In exchange for tuition fees of up to £9,000, the Coalition has told institutions to improve the student experience by upping the number of lectures and tutorials given to undergraduates.

But writing in the Times Higher, Paul Ramsden, an education consultant and visiting professor at London’s Institute of Education, said the Government wanted students to be “spoon-fed”.

It should “make more effort to reverse the process of infantilising universities and the patronising culture of that defines undergraduates as immature beings who cannot look after themselves,” he said.


Australia: Parents deserting chaotic and run-down Victorian State schools

And abusing the parents is the answer, apparently

Parent snobbery is being blamed for an exodus from Victorian state primary schools. While class sizes hit record lows, increasing numbers of parents are opting for private schools. Since 2003, the number of primary school-aged children sent to state schools has dipped by almost 3000, equal to 170 classes.

Over the same period, the Catholic and independent systems have been bolstered by more than 13,000 pupils - filling more than 600 extra classrooms.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy believes snobbery is partly to blame for the shift. "Often people firmly believe that something that looks better, costs more, will get a better outcome. And that's not necessarily true," Ms McHardy said.

"When you've got a bit more disposable income, rather than making a conscious choice of which system and which ethos suits your child, sometimes that decision is more easily influenced if there are more bells and whistles."

Figures from the Education Department's February schools census show the average number of students is 22 - down from 25 a decade ago. However, comparisons with data over the past eight years show the decline in public school confidence.

Melbourne University education expert Prof Richard Teese said preferences for private education had traditionally been stronger at secondary level, but had also crept down to primary level.He said parents were driven by their wish for a "competitive advantage".

Australian Education Union state secretary Mary Bluett warned the physical appearance of some public schools had proved a turn-off, and said more State Government funding for capital works was crucial.


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