Star Editorial: Those who care about math education for all should focus on results, not rhetoric about colonialism

Good editorial calling for focus on substance, not rhetoric:

Kids in Ontario ought to get the best possible education in mathematics. And that means all kids — including ones who have historically been left behind in this crucial area.

We should hold the government accountable on this, and demand it do everything possible on both counts — designing the best math education, and delivering an approach to teaching that ensures no groups are excluded from success.

What we shouldn’t be doing is getting hung up on rhetoric about “decolonizing” math education and worrying about the “historical roots and social constructions” of mathematics.

This is a giant distraction from those real issues — the quality of education and making sure the government gives teachers the resources they need to deliver it to all their students.

The issue arises because the Ford government has dropped language about racism and colonialism from the preamble to the province’s new math curriculum.

The paragraph that’s been edited out said this: “Mathematics has been used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledges, and a decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions.”

How does focusing on language of this sort help any students actually learn math, or help any teachers operate to their best ability in the classroom? 

And how does it help to get Ontarians behind the cause of making sure we have the best math education possible, and the government carries through on delivering it?

The answer is it doesn’t do any of those things. All it does it convince most parents — and most teachers, for that matter — that the people in charge of designing curriculums are more interested in pushing a political/social agenda than in delivering the best education.

It also distracts from the genuine issues buried beneath those layers of jargon. It’s undoubtedly true that many students — Black, Indigenous and other racialized students among them — have been disadvantaged by the way math and other subjects have been taught.

This is a real, documented problem and it’s in everyone’s interest that it be addressed without delay.

To the government’s credit, it took a big step in that direction vowing to end streaming in Grade 9 — making young teenagers choose between “academic” and “applied” tracks in high school. There are stacks of evidence that this has had a disproportionate impact on Black, Indigenous and poor students, limiting their opportunities for the future.

So any new curriculum, especially in core subjects like math, should take into account the fact that some groups have been left behind.

And, in fact, while the government chopped some words from the preamble to the new math curriculum, it added this new paragraph: “The curriculum emphasizes the need to eliminate systemic barriers and to serve students belonging to groups that have been historically disadvantaged and underserved in mathematics education.”

That gets to the heart of the matter, but of course words alone are not enough. The real test will be if the government follows through and makes sure the intent in that paragraph is translated into action and results.

We made that point last month when Education Minister Steven Lecce unveiled Ontario’s new Grade 9 math curriculum.

It’s a single curriculum for all students — no more of that “streaming” — and it looks like a step forward toward making sure they’ll acquire math skills they can use in a wide range of science, technology and trade careers. It includes mandatory learning on coding, data literacy, mathematical modelling and financial literacy.

The government says it’s committed millions to make sure the new curriculum is properly delivered — and that students who find themselves in a more academic math class get all the supports they need to succeed.

But this government has a track record of cheaping out in areas like this, and those who care about math education need to keep up the pressure and make sure that doesn’t happen. In the end, that will count a lot more than all that grad-school rhetoric about “colonialism.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2021/07/19/those-who-care-about-math-education-for-all-should-focus-on-results-not-rhetoric-about-colonialism.html

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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