Recent left-wing attempts to subvert maths curricula hold some awkward historical parallels
If you were an author of school textbooks and wanted to teach a small child that 2+2=4, how would you choose to do so? Perhaps you might draw a picture of two easily-understandable items like apples, next to another two apples, followed by a final illustration of four apples, these simple and innocent images linked by the common mathematical signifiers + and =.
Or, alternatively, perhaps you may prefer to throw out those rotten old apples and have kids learn to count by totting up images of highly politicised things with rather more Social Justice content to them instead, like raised BLM fist-logos, rainbow-coloured condoms, or Free Palestine flags?
Parents should relax: these specific examples have not yet happened – as far as I know. But maths questions like the following, found in an Irish school textbook in 2018, have:
Craig buys his boyfriend a birthday present that costs €215.65 including VAT [Value Added Tax] @ 13.5%. What was the original bill before VAT was added?
Just harmless attempts at trying to make all social groups feel included in the classroom? Not according to the response of some gleeful commentators to the question when it went viral online:
But what if some parents don’t want their children to have their “heteronormative programming” forcibly unpicked in school mathematics classes? What if they just want their kids to be taught to add up properly, not be turned gay by their calculators? (As if such a thing is even possible …)
Poisoning the Pi
Mathematics is, stereotypically-speaking, supposed to be the most ideologically, culturally and morally impartial of all subjects under the sun. Yes, us fallen humans can use maths to do bad things – to calculate how much explosive to add to a bomb, say – but numbers themselves are neutral. Certainly, I have yet to encounter a sexist fraction or a racist cone-section.
Yet in Britain, headlines were recently made when the QAA, a university standards (-lowering) body, released official guidance for mathematics courses, to the effect that “Values of EDI [Equality, Diversity, Inclusion – i.e. wokeness] should permeate the [maths] curriculum and every aspect of the learning experience to ensure the diverse nature of society in all its forms is evident.”
One of the specific ways in which the QAA suggested this “essential” goal could be achieved was by professors shame-facedly informing their students that mathematics itself had frequently operated as a tool of white supremacy throughout its long and chequered past, even to the extent that “historically, some mathematicians have recorded racist or fascist views or connections to groups such as the Nazis.”
Well, this is true. Some obscure mathematicians were indeed committed Nazis, like Ludwig Bieberbach. But, likewise – and I find it difficult to believe this fact actually now needs to be stated – the vast majority of mathematicians throughout history were not Nazis at all. Doubtless some train-drivers, pig-farmers and stamp-collectors in 1930s Germany were fascists also. Next time they hop on public transport, eat a sausage or post a letter, do the general public really need to be piously reminded of this appalling fact lest they absent-mindedly allow another Führer to rise to power some dark day soon?
There is also the amusing irony that, when the Nazis actually did specifically abuse the field of mathematics for their own sinister ends, the way they most frequently did so was alarmingly similar to the methods now being “recommended” to British universities by the QAA: namely, by ensuring that their own chosen political values “permeate the [maths] curriculum and every aspect of the learning experience.”
To be sure, the Nazis’ specific extremist values were far different and far worse than those of the QAA, whose board-members have thus far at least not actually killed anybody (at least not in any professional capacity) – but their basic methodology is absolutely identical.
To enable them to maintain power, the Nazi Party developed an omnipotent method of social control called Gleichschaltung, which can be taken as meaning “marching in step”, or more literally as “synchronisation” or “coordination”, terms taken from electrical engineering, and indicating the switching of current between its two different AC and DC forms, a literal forced rewiring of the human brain: just like “unpicking heteronormative programming” in kids, maybe.
The Nazis were committed social-engineers who saw society as some gigantic machine, every cog of which had to be captured and made to serve as a tiny wheel within the overall centrally-imposed design-blueprint … even maths.
The most notorious example of this was Question 97 in the 1935 textbook Mathematics in the Service of National Socialist Education. Edited by regime-friendly teacher Adolf Dorner, the author boasted in the text’s foreword that it was intended to “hammer into the people [i.e., naïve children] the basic facts that determine the policy of the government” – in Question 97’s case, the government’s policy of mass-murdering the disabled to save money:
A mentally ill person costs 4 German Marks (RM) a day [to the State], a cripple 5.50RM, a criminal 3.50RM. In many cases, a civil servant has only 4RM per day, a public employee barely 3.50RM, an unskilled worker not yet 2RM [despite being] head of the family.
(a) Represent these figures graphically.
(b) According to cautious estimates, there are 300,000 mentally ill persons, epileptics, etc, in nursing homes. How many loans for young [healthy] families at 1,000M without refund could be spent from this money each year? (NOTE: For each child that is born alive in the marriage, one fourth of the original loan is relinquished)
Such a question not only teaches impressionable infants legitimate mathematical skills like how to draw graphs, it also encourages them to view medical genocide as a highly moral and financially sensible decision which will directly help them in their future lives. In short, “2+2= support Nazism!”
Marxism by the numbers
Similar tactics were pursued in the Soviet Union, under the rubric of partiinost’, or “Partyness”, the Kremlin’s own domestic equivalent of Nazi Gleichschaltung. Here is an excellent illustration of raising Far-Left political awareness amongst children, taken from the key Stalinist school resource Culturally Specific Pedagogy in the Mathematics Classroom: Strategies for Teachers and Students [pp.170-2]:
[The Left-wing political trade union activist] Cesar Chavez organised the National Farm Workers Association to help fight for the rights of migrant farm-workers [in the US]. In 1965, Cesar and his followers organised a 250-mile march from Delano, California, to the State Capitol in Sacramento. It took 17 days for the marchers to reach Stockton, California, It is about 200 miles from Delano to Stockton. Find the average number of miles the people had walked so far.
Chavez’s movement on behalf of migrant farm-workers was non-violent. To bring attention to La Causa [The Cause], Chavez went on hunger-strikes, refusing to eat food for many days. In 1993, Chavez went on a 36-day hunger-strike. How many weeks did this hunger-strike last?
Except, as the dates mentioned above rather give away, this particular example does not come from the USSR during the 1950s at all, but from the US in 2019, being contained in a textbook for teachers printed not by a fringe Communist press, but by the major international academic publisher Routledge. Doubtless a close sequel, The Bobby Sands Maths Book, will soon be released to encourage further anti-imperialist hunger-striking in Northern Ireland.
The text’s author, Jacqueline Leonard, argues that framing classroom questions in such a blatantly biased way will help spread “Social Justice”. According to Leonard, embedding leftist propaganda in maths lessons “empowers teachers and students to change society, challenging the status quo”, as Britain’s own QAA may also desire. A more honest way of putting this may be to imitate her Nazi predecessor Adolf Dorner and admit such brainwashing actually helps “hammer into the people the basic facts that determine the policy of the government”, or the policy of the government as left-wing activists posing as impartial educators like Ms Leonard would one day like it to be, anyway.
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You can find any number of such lesson plans easily available for teachers to make use of online. Consider “What’s a Fair Housing Wage?”, an activity in which American students are asked to draw graphs for the earnings of various families on differing incomes before “identifying slope and y-intercept in each representation.” Yet these legitimate skills are supplemented by explicitly identified “Social Justice Goals”, namely that students must: “Recognize that the current minimum wage does not allow an individual to afford the fair market price of a moderate 2-bedroom rental unit, assuming that housing should require about 30% of income.”
This may indeed be true: or, then again, it may not. This is a debatable political opinion, being pushed as objective fact, within an inappropriate educational context, the true aim of which is to indoctrinate pupils into despising capitalism, and perhaps even defenestrating landlords. Maths questions traditionally only have one acceptable correct answer: 2+2 is always supposed to equal 4 (although some ideologues now even dispute this too …). Subjective political and economic questions should not be treated similarly; that is a literal definition of totalitarian One-Party rule.
Even more self-evidently propagandistic are the various Black Lives Matter maths resources available to teachers. Look at this 2019 example from a school boasting how it had children examine rates of incarceration by race in US prisons, clearly designed to persuade students the entire criminal justice system is systemically racist against non-whites.
In conclusion, having considered such data, Young Pioneers were asked to explain whether or not expanding the US border wall at Mexico would be an effective way to reduce crime, as Donald Trump thought, rightly or wrongly. If junior thought-criminals still answered “yes”, you have to presume that would be a big red ‘X’ for dim little Johnny, just as he would receive for writing that 2+2=5. At least the Nazis’ maths textbooks openly admitted they were fascistic in their very titles; today’s Western Marxist equivalents never seem honest enough to do the same.
In 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis banned 54 out of 132 school maths textbooks submitted for use in the State’s schools either because they did not meet various required standards or because, in his officials’ opinion, they were simply being used as vehicles for leftist propaganda – if you wish to transform this into a politicised maths problem of your own, that’s 41%.
Some of the books required students to parse bar-graphs and equations purporting to demonstrate that, the older and more conservative-leaning you were, the more racist you were too. Presumably the data used to “demonstrate” this took no account of anti-white racism, in which case the demographics represented by these bar-charts may well have been directly reversed, so successful has in-school woke Gleichschaltung now become.
The Book of Numbers
Religious extremists also subvert maths curricula to similar ends. In 2020, it emerged that UK aid money given to Palestine had been used to fund Islamist textbooks where nine-year-olds were challenged to calculate the number of martyred terrorists from various anti-Israeli uprisings down the years, accompanied by charming photographs of their funerals. That wokeists are increasingly acting similarly provides further evidence the whole movement is just a contemporary secular cult.
I used to quite happily teach in religious Catholic schools myself -- which critics may also deride as ideological indoctrination-factories -- but Catholic content there was strictly restricted to assemblies and religious education classes, not any other subjects. Maths lessons did not require children to calculate how many Vatican missionaries were required to convert the benighted heathen in Country X or determine how many innocent infant souls were lost to abortion each year.
Whenever anyone does try and religiously convert pupils via maths, they are dealt with harshly. Consider an amusing 2016 instance where the following question surprisingly appeared on an internal maths exam in a UK grammar school:
If in a town, 70 percent of the men are married to 90 per cent of the women (and each marriage is between one man and one woman, as God intended when he made humans male and female), what percentage of the adult population are married?
The volunteer teacher responsible for handing out the paper – described as “a caricature of conservative Christianity” by one disapproving pupil (i.e., someone who actually believed in the tenets of his own religion) – soon had his services dispensed with, on the grounds of unprofessional behaviour. Rightly so, you may say. In which case, all the teachers responsible for promoting BLM, homosexuality, anti-capitalism, etc, detailed above should also have been dismissed or disciplined too. But they never are, are they?
Divide and conquer
In February 1953, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was asked whether or not known Communists should be banned from teaching in Cold War-era American schools and universities, not only in the easily-abused humanities subjects, but also in ostensibly non-ideological areas such as maths. Eisenhower replied the idea should be considered.
Following World War II, Eisenhower recalled having been shown a Nazi mathematics textbook in which, rather than asking children to calculate how many apples are in a barrel, pupils were instead tasked with working out how many “Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia … belong to Mr Hitler”. This, said Eisenhower, showed how a politically suspect teacher can indeed “use mathematics to be rather doctrinal”, if they so desire.
Until recently, Eisenhower’s words were used as a prime example of what was painted as the extreme and comical “Reds Under the Bed” paranoia of the 1950s McCarthyite era. Viewed anew from today’s perspective, it suddenly seems as if the President had a point after all.
Steven Tucker is a UK-based writer with over ten books to his name. His next, Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science, comparing the woke pseudoscience of today to the totalitarian pseudoscience of the past, will be published in summer 2023.
Image credit: Pexels
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