SATURDAY, JUNE 5, 2021
Might we have a problem?: Perhaps inadvertently, David Brooks had revealed the cold heart of the modern-day Other.
Typical peak David Brooks! He had dared to suggest that "the thing we call wokeness" can sometimes involve imperfect judgment on the part of those who reside in Our Town, even including our scholars!.
We sometimes speak a type of silly jargonized language, Brooks had seemed to suggest. Also, we sometimes come up with crazy ideas!
As an example of those alleged ideas, he cited something called "ethnomathematics," an example he'd plainly dreamed up. We quoted these allegations by Brooks in greater detail in yesterday's report.
Last Sunday, Sarah Viren floated a question in the New York Times. "Academia, do we have a problem?" Viren weirdly asked.
In his earlier column, Brooks had suggested that the answer might be yes. He'd even suggested that Our Town's most erudite thought leaders might occasionally display imperfect vision and judgment.
Brooks' claims appeared in his May 14 column. Luckily, a pair of academics replied in letters to the Times.
Each of these two professors is a good, decent person. We thought we'd show you what these stalwarts said.
Academia, do we have imperfect judgment? Is it possible that angry parents will sometimes have a valid point when they complain about the way Our Town's loftiest values migrate into public school instruction?
Is it possible that, on the rare occasion, Our Town's behavior could be imperfect? That parents could have a decent point when they complain about "tidbits??
We know, we know—it's absurd on its face! Here's what two professors wrote:
The use of jargonized language:
In his column, Brooks complained at several points about the tendency, here in Our Town, to invent and employ a specialized "woke" language. A sociology professor replied to this ugly, ridiculous claim.
Everything she said was correct. Here is her letter, in full:
To the Editor:
David Brooks is troubled by some words he regards as “woke.” On the contrary, these are useful analytical concepts.
“Heteronormativity” draws our attention to our cultural assumption that everyone is heterosexual. “Cisgender” refers to people who experience their biological sex and gender identity as compatible. “Intersectionality” means that race, class and gender are interconnected phenomena.
These concepts are not that complex, not that radical and not evidence of discourse performance.
We're not sure what "discourse performance" is. That almost supports' Brooks' non-existent point!
At least in principle, though, everything the professor said is true:
In principle, the word “heteronormativity” actually can "draw our attention to our cultural assumption that everyone is heterosexual." Similarly, the other two words the professor discussed can imaginably draw our attention to significant states of affairs.
We were satisfied that the professor had put Brooks in his place. But several young analysts spoke up, saying something like this:
The professor seems to have missed the point of what Brooks was saying.
In theory, academia's highly jargonized tribal language can be part of illuminating discussions. But that's only true in theory.
In practice, such jargonized lingo will often serve to cloud discussion and debate. To the masses of the great unwashed, it will almost sound like a foreign language. Such jargonized lingo will often serve to drive such rubes away!
According to these headstrong youngsters, the professor's letter helped prove Brooks' point! The professor is a good, decent person who has had an outstanding career. But she seemed completely oblivious to the critique which Brooks had lodged—a critique in which Brooks alleged that our jargonized language tends to stifle outreach.
What this professor said was true. But according to these youngsters, she seemed to be working deep inside a bubble. It almost seemed like this professor had throughly missed the point!
Fringe absurdities like "ethnomathematics:"
Brooks also claimed that "the thing we call woke" can produce crazy ideas. On its face, the claim is plainly false, but here's the "example" he gave:
BROOKS (5/14/21): [The ideology] produces fringe absurdities like “ethnomathematics,” which proponents say seeks to challenge the ways that, as one guide for teachers puts it, “math is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist and racist views” by dismissing old standards like focusing on “getting the ‘right’ answer.”
On its face, Brooks' general claim was nuts. Thankfully, a letter writer dispatched this particular bit of nonsense.
The writer is an associate dean and a history professor at a certain college. Here is his letter, in full:
To the Editor.
In his anti-wokeness column, David Brooks cited “absurdities” like a guide to inclusive teaching for math instructors and mockingly quoted its critique of standards like “getting the ‘right’ answer.”
Fortunately, the editorial included a link to the guide in question. The full quote questions the emphasis on correct answers over “understanding concepts and reasoning,” which would be a valid point for any kind of teaching. Cherry-picking this quote and presenting it out of context is a disservice to the educators who prepared this guide to help overcome longstanding inequities in math education.
As a university administrator who works in faculty development, I would say that this is one of the most effective texts I’ve seen on anti-racist pedagogy, and I encourage all readers to examine it themselves.
It was much as we had suspected. Brooks had cherry-picked his quote!
According to the letter- writer, the full quotation raises a question "which would be a valid point for any kind of teaching." We were satisfied that the running-dog Brooks had been foiled again.
That said, full disclosure! Several analysts proceeded to take the letter writer's advice! They clicked the link to the teaching guide in question, intending to judge for themselves.
When they did that, they found a guide which bore this two-part title:
A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction / Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction
There's nothing wrong with that! Presumably, no one wants to promulgate racism in any part of our public school instruction.
So far, the analysts said, so good! But as the analysts scrolled ahead, they also came upon this:
Deconstructing Racism in Mathematics Instruction
White supremacy culture infiltrates math classrooms in everyday teacher actions. Coupled with the beliefs that underlie these actions, they perpetuate educational harm on Black, Latinx, and multilingual students, denying them full access to the world of mathematics. The table below identifies the ways in which white supremacy shows up in math classrooms
DISMANTLING WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE IN MATH CLASSROOMS
We see white supremacy culture show up in the mathematics classroom even as we carry out our professional responsibilities outlined in the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP). Using CSTP as a framework, we see white supremacy culture in the mathematics classroom can show up when:
There is a greater focus on getting the "right" answer than understanding concepts and reasoning.
How does white supremacy show up in math classrooms? It was the very first example this teaching guide offered:
We see white supremacy culture in the mathematics classroom when there is a greater focus on getting the "right" answer than understanding concepts and reasoning.
That's what the teaching guide says. It even puts the word "right" inside scare quotes, as if to say how silly it is to think there could be a "right" answer to a mathematical question or problem—when engineering a bridge, let's say.
Briefly, let's be clear. There's always a balance, in math instruction, between 1) getting the right answer to some problem, and 2) understanding mathematical concepts and reasoning.
Presumably, no teacher should overemphasize either part of this dyad. But on what planet is getting the right answer a part of "white supremacy culture," while understanding the basic concepts is more of a black kids thing?
On what planet can any sane person say this division prevails? According to our analysts, angry parents may sometimes see "tidbits" like this and correctly feel that their public schools may perhaps have a problem. Angry parents could sometimes be right!
If you were a parent and you were told (something like) getting the right answer is part of white supremacy culture, might you suspect that your public schools were having some sort of a problem? Might you even feel that academia might have a problem—academia, the gated grove from which such "fringe absurdities" tend to emerge?
Our youthful analysts said that Brooks had been right. So, perhaps, are some angry parents, these impressionable youths also said.
Our analysts are hotheaded kids. Credentialed experts tell us that the larger problem is this:
Our brains were wired, long ago, to produce tribal true belief. Sadly, what was once a survival skill is now a societal problem.
We're even wired that way in Our Town, despondent experts have said. Our professors can even be wired that way. And some angry parents are right!
We're very, very dumb in Our Town, but also extremely self-assured. If you think our own brains aren't wired that way, we have a suggestion to make:
Go ahead! Just read the Post or the Times, any morning of any week!
Questions for extra-credit discussion: Should the Times have checked to see what that teaching guide said?
After the Times conducted that check, should it have published that letter?
(For what it's worth, that teaching guide gets even sillier, as it proceeds, concerning the racism lurking in the search for "right" answers in math. Academia and the like, do we sometimes have a problem? Could parents sometimes be right?)