Home » Vanderbilt Professor Denounces the Math Field as Racist – JONATHAN TURLEY

Vanderbilt Professor Denounces the Math Field as Racist – JONATHAN TURLEY

by John Hensley


This is part of a growing movement across the country. We previously discussed the view of University of Rhode Island and Director of Graduate Studies of History Erik Loomis that “Science, statistics, and technology are all inherently racist.” Others have agreed with that view, including denouncing math as racist or a “tool of whiteness.” There are also calls for the “decolonization” of math as a field.

Leyva does not address meritocracy, which has been denounced by others. The controversy over meritocracy recently enveloped Virginia high schools after various schools admitted to withholding National Merits awards. Some parents allege that they were told the withholding of the awards was to support efforts toward greater equity in schools.

Various teachers and professors have objected that meritocracy is a tool of white supremacy. For example, Alison Collins, the Vice President of the San Francisco Board of Education, declared meritocracy to be racist even in the selection of students at advanced or gifted programs. As we have previously discussed, this has been a building campaign in academia as educators and others denounce selection based on academic performance through testing. At issue in San Francisco is Lowell High School where top students were selected through testing and grades.  Most cities have such gifted programs or institutions, though we have discussed calls for the elimination of all gifted and talented programs in cities like New York.

I can appreciate the calls for greater efforts to develop math skills and teachers in underrepresented populations. I hope that we are all committed to that goal. That does not require “structural disruptions” as opposed to outreach and supportive programs.

It is the repeated calls to “decolonize” math are most concerning. Math has always been one of the greatest equalizers, no pun intended.  As I discussed earlier, it is a shame to see math treated as a field of privilege when many of us view it as a field of pure intellectual pursuit and bias neutrality.  Either the math is there or it is not.  The race of the mathematician will not change the outcome.


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