A professor equates math with white privilege and sets off viral backlash

A college classroom in 1966 at a Colorado college. (Photo Colorado State University.)

A professor in mathematics education is getting pilloried for an essay in which she asserts:  “On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness. Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White.”

The excerpts from an essay by University of Illinois professor Rochelle Gutierrez are sparking the predictable condemnation on social media, such as “This idiot shouldn’t be educating anyone.”

Her essay was not meant for a general audience, but is part of the anthology “Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods.”

As Campus Reform reports about her essay: (You can find a lot of interesting comments on this article, including from other academics.)

Gutierrez also worries that algebra and geometry perpetuate privilege, fretting that “curricula emphasizing terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans.”

Math also helps actively perpetuate white privilege too, since the way our economy places a premium on math skills gives math a form of “unearned privilege” for math professors, who are disproportionately white.

“Are we really that smart just because we do mathematics?” she asks, further wondering why math professors get more research grants than “social studies or English” professors. Further, she also worries that evaluations of math skills can perpetuate discrimination against minorities, especially if they do worse than their white counterparts.

“If one is not viewed as mathematical, there will always be a sense of inferiority that can be summoned,” she says, adding that there are so many minorities who “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.”

I attended a conference this week in Orlando for teachers in Project Lead the Way,  a nonprofit that develops engineering, computer science and biomedical curricula for schools and helps them improve and enhance k-12 science education. I observed several sessions on classroom practice, including one on how to ask questions that further learning.

The misperception remains that teaching means putting a smart person on front of room to fill children’s heads with content. But effective teaching is far more complicated and entails knowing many other things, including what’s already in children’s heads. And that increasingly requires understanding perceptions and biases that might prevent students from learning the content or believing they are even capable of learning it.

There was a standing-room-only session on the gender gap in engineering classes, in which teachers talked about the need to recognize the subtle cultural messages that tell girls engineering is something boys do.  Teachers said they ran into that belief even among girls who excel at math and science.

I am not sure why discussing how students of color may not see themselves as mathematicians because of cultural messages is met with such hostility. According to her college profile: “Dr. Gutierrez’ scholarship focuses on equity issues in mathematics education, paying particular attention to how race, class, and language affect teaching and learning. Through in-depth analyses of effective teaching/learning communities and longitudinal studies of developing and practicing teachers, her work challenges deficit views of Latina/o and black students and suggests that mathematics teachers need to be prepared with much more than just content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, or knowledge of diverse students if they are going to be successful.”

So, for balance, here is a video I watched of Gutierrez presenting her research to other educators, As is always the case with the viral outrage du jour, there is more to her research than those controversial  little snippets provoking the viral smackdown.

 

Reader Comments 0

83 comments
Sam Callan
Sam Callan

I wonder how the women in Hidden Figures ever did it. They must have had it so much easier

Lee_CPA2
Lee_CPA2

"A professor in mathematics education...".  Download her CV and we see she received her BA in Human Biology, MA in Sociology in March of 1995, and a Phd in Education (Curriculum & Instruction) in December 1995.

So, let me get this straight, she is teaching future Math teachers but has no degree in Math?  Her "research" focuses on "equity" issues.  According to her perverse logic, since most math professors are white men and many math terms derive their origins from the Greeks, there must be some kind of racist plot to keep the black and brown down.

Yeah, that's it.  A racist plot.  Inequity.  Give me my grant money so I can write some pathetic, whiny article.


Jesus H Christ, and you wonder what is wrong with American "education"?

Leon Jenkins
Leon Jenkins

Math exists. It is not colored by opinions or stupidity or silliness or laziness or inability to perform basic tasks without excuses; rather it simply exists. It's not a pseudoscience like sociology or gender studies. It's not an exercise in left brain creativity, like Art. You either can grasp it like a human being or you cant. Full stop. Japanese people are great at math. So are Koreans. Good for them. If they succeed then they deserve it. Save your excuses for abject stupidity for some place other than the academy.

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

Yes it is a Professor issue, and corporations not hiring them also. Have to have both working together. Still very few women mechnical engineers also.

Susan Smith
Susan Smith

They said this about women 50 years ago! Sick of this crap as a female Engineer.

William Miller
William Miller

What she is against is a person with BRAINS!!!!!!! Very few blacks could handle mathematics!!!!!!!! They're more into Black Studies and Burn 101!!!!!!

bu22
bu22

Hard to give her credit for "research" when she is a "math" professor and doesn't have a clue that the word algebra is derived from Arabic.  I thought everyone who took Algebra in high school knew that.

Takit Itzfre
Takit Itzfre

This is what happens when 'academicians' decide to put on their social justice warrior dunce caps to perpetuate an unfettered myth  to explain away the complete and utter failures of the very institution they are a part of.  Through the use of 'smoke and mirrors', the esteemed academic community use these failures as a means to deflect, and redirect the blame for their own failures to those that overcame the deluded attempt to be controlled by theories that only work in a fantasy world of rainbows and unicorns.  The academic establishment is no better than the political establishment, though both have very similar ideas regarding what their 'end game' and how to achieve it.

Wake up people, and start thinking for yourselves.  Google, youtube, and the MSM are a far cry from what reality actually is.

Doomy
Doomy

I'm thinking that Asian students who excel at math and who in fact do better than white kids must have an advantage. We'll call it "Asian privilege". 


Anybody ever notice that they always talk in terms of white/black/Hispanic and leave out how Asian students are doing? The implication is obvious. If you leave out the math or other scholastic achievement of Asians and only compare whites and blacks/Hispanics then you can imply by the lower test scores of those minorities that there is something nefarious going on or that there is some racial discrimination or bias. 

Doomy
Doomy

So now math is biased against black folk. Sheesh. 

weetamoe
weetamoe

The teacher's own sentences are evidence that parents should be thankful that she does not teach English. Those "snippets" are quite revealing.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

It all begins with a home life that encourages education and provides an atmosphere for learning, its not a black or white thing, that being said, way to many black kids ( and a lot of white kids ) come from a home where they have no good role models and no family support to keep them interested in learning.  Teachers can only do so much, the parents or parent has the most influence in a child's life and if those parents don't take their responsibility for that child's upbringing seriously, the child has two strikes against him/her starting out. Sad  

8kentucky13
8kentucky13

Just because you are good at math doesn't qualify you as being "smart".  It just means that you are good at math.

Denise Moore
Denise Moore

This is stupid just stop ✊✊✊✊✊✊

Robin Cathcart Mathews
Robin Cathcart Mathews

I read her research when taking a mathematics research grad school class at KSU. This was a couple of years ago so it is odd that now people are upset. She does phenomenal work. As a math teacher at an ATL independent school, I agree with her. I am doing what I can to provide equity for all students. However, much of what needs to change aren’t about decisions I can make as a classroom teacher, but decisions that admin needs to make. The current system privileges certain groups of students. SF unified studied this a few years ago. At the end of 5th grade, when divided up by ethnicity, students finished the year about the same. At the end of 6th grade, the black and Latino students had fallen behind their peers. They believe it was because less black & Latino students took honors math that started in 6th grade. For equity purposes, now students all take the same math through 10th grade. Then in 11th grade there is a decision about following the normal math pathway or advancing so one can take Calc as a senior.

Doomy
Doomy

"The current system privileges certain groups of students"


If everyone has the option to take the advanced math classes then how is one group "privileged"? Also, are Asian students who perform better than whites on math also "privileged"?

Takit Itzfre
Takit Itzfre

@Doomy That's a classic diversion made in the name of advantaged or privileged.  If they had their way they wouldn't allow anyone that showed an inclination to advance or excel to do so all in the name of fairness.  They'd rather do what takes place now, which is throw everyone into the proverbial pot so to speak, dumb down the curriculum to meet the needs of the lowest common denominators for as long as possible, all in the name of equality and  'success' for all. 

Why should kids, that don't necessarily have the financial resources to get out of the cesspool known as the 'public school system' be in the same classroom as those that are 'slow', incorrigible, or down right lazy?  It's nothing more than an excuse for those academic bureaucrats to take money from the Feds while they themselves are doing nothing more than stealing money from the tax payers.  

It's little more than a tax payer supported ponzi scheme that allows those that can't actually do anything to get paid while never actually improving the people they've been charged to  lead and educate.

Holly Schmidt-Davis
Holly Schmidt-Davis

Do you have any links for the SF United information? I would love to read more!

Robert L Allen
Robert L Allen

When you have close to 400 years headstart on everything and unrestricted privilege on education, it's easy to make biased comparisons to people that have been denied and restricted for equality as long. Bias statistics and bias bell cures are the hallmarks of bigoted claims.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

and if you keep looking for an excuse for failure, you more than likely will come up with one

Doomy
Doomy

@Infraredguy


Sheesh. I'm in my 40s and this guy thinks I have a 400 year head start on him. And to think I went to the same public schools as he did. Where does he even come up with this 400 year head start crappola?

Cheryl Hoynowski Owens
Cheryl Hoynowski Owens

As a white person, I’m going to say that how can we ever try to bridge the gap unless we talk about things, such as cultural discrepancies , and not get called out as racist? Can we talk about cultural differences? I was brought up in a blue-collar Family. I have more in common with my Black brothers and sisters culturally than I do with a WASP. We need to get over being so offended....truth can hurt sometimes. And just talking it out....letting ALL the prejudices flow...may help cleanse us. We are more alike than not. We are better than we think we are.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

there is money and attention in the " Racist " rant and therefore it won't go away no matter how hard some people from both sides of the political issue try 

Judith Perry
Judith Perry

I am not that impressed with this theory my grandson is a math teacher who teaches in high school.

CarlosSantiago
CarlosSantiago

Now let's see here....the Mayans (ancestors of today's Mexicans) were brilliant mathematicians, even to the point of creating and utilizing the concept of "zero" as a place holder, without which modern math would be impossible.  And yet a giggle-sissy liberal professor seems to think math equates to "white privilege."

Bless the beasts and the children...

Sheila Holland
Sheila Holland

How can that be true. Who got John Glenn to outer space and back. A mathematical Genius who happened to be a African American woman.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

So, she was Black, big deal, why not just say she was a smart lady ?

Takit Itzfre
Takit Itzfre

@Infraredguy  The society we live in thrives on  identity political ideology.  It's a built-in safety net for those that see themselves as failures, or not getting their fair share, or __________ .  They see themselves as a victim of some perceived wrong due to XYZ factor.  XYZ can be any number of things...it's just a matter of whatever fills the bill to fit the narrative.

Edward Lester
Edward Lester

No one discussed being a mathematician with me, or heart surgeon, or osteopath, or veteranarian, or forensic accountant, or archivist.

Denise Moore
Denise Moore

You sound like a racist's white person ✊✊✊

Starik
Starik

This is a perfect example of really stupid, Politically Correct, Social Justice Warrior thinking. People like that helped elect Trump. 

Cats_Resist
Cats_Resist

@Starik Or, this is a perfect example of people taking subtle, specialized thought out of context and caricaturing it for inflammatory political ends. Which is what helped elect Trump.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

@Starik  Trump was elected by people who were tired of the " its somebody else's fault PC crowd " where every failure is always due to something beyond an individuals control and personal responsibility is to be frowned on. 

weetamoe
weetamoe

@Cats_Resist @Starik One could not possibly further "caricature" such an obvious caricature as the one featured in Ms Downey's column.

Cats_Resist
Cats_Resist

@weetamoe What is outlandish about the insight that teachers should strive to the best of their abilities to teach all students effectively? 

Sheez.

John Woodbury
John Woodbury

Yea .. ok so people wonder why there is a bigger racial divide today than there was 10 years ago ? Seriously it is a theory put out to now say numbers are discriminatory!! This is just absurd

Michael Hopson
Michael Hopson

Lonely it is white privilege down south when I was in school, public school, the math teachers simply made no attempt to teach black students math they were considered uneducable. Under some pressure from who knows where.

Andrew Childs
Andrew Childs

For all it's problems, the no child left behind act stipulated that teachers must treat all students equally and not focus only on the few advanced students.

Mollie Johnson
Mollie Johnson

Well I live in the south and the blacks were taught right along with the whites. Some catch on quicker than others and has nothing to do with dam skin color. It's the same in all other school subjects as well.

Michael Hopson
Michael Hopson

Andrew Childs from what I see white people know quite well they have the advantage and simply selfishly do not intend to share, the incurable division of the nation is the result. Without some cure it will drag us down with it.

Andrew Childs
Andrew Childs

Michael I agree. I think that somehow, though, most white people are convinced that things are the way they are for reasons that can be blamed on minorities. Or they just don't think about it at all because our socially constructed race just doesn't seem to affect us at all in any negative way. I think there's a lot of people out there who simply don't know what non white people deal with because they just don't really know anyone who's not white

Michael Hopson
Michael Hopson

Andrew Childs convinced or actively lying to get an advantage.

Christy Marie Davis
Christy Marie Davis

Either you are good in math or not. Color has nothing to do with it. Next it will be reading is white privledge.

Tabitha Lynn
Tabitha Lynn

Math is the one thing that I am absolutely terrible at trying to perform. Without math I would have had a 4.0 GPA in high school and a higher GPA than I had in college.

LiDi Mit HachiundDashi
LiDi Mit HachiundDashi

As a Black person, I agree with the Professor. When discussing career options with Blacks, becoming a mathematician rarely ever is brought up. I am sure that the Professor wasn't saying that Blacks cannot become mathematicians but rather that he wanted to point out that being a mathematician has not been advocated among Blacks.

Lee Townsend
Lee Townsend

I have to respectful disagree. I was never offered a position to become a mathematician. I was never offered a position to become a teacher, lawyer, pilot, engineer or anything else for that matter. It was my own responsibility to work out what job I wanted and apply myself towards that goal. Actually, no career options were ever discussed with me!

Ellis De
Ellis De

lol Asian people always get the accounted thrown allot

Ychromosome
Ychromosome

Yes. If you do well in math and you like math, you'll gravitate towards majors that require math, such as physics, engineering, etc. I saw people who were good at math, but didn't like it (mostly females) gravitate towards majors like sociology and political science. It really seemed to be a gender split more than any racial split. 

John Woodbury
John Woodbury

I don’t think a mathematician is a career discussed with any race. If you are fascinated with mathematical theory , etc then you choose that field. Your brain dictates an aptitude for numbers , not your color.

Infraredguy
Infraredguy

There always has to be " Someone else " to blame, never personal responsibilities