Less Meritocracy, More Social Justice… for MATH?

According to a professor at Brooklyn College “meritocracy” should now be considered “a tool of whiteness.”

Odd for a math professor–especially one as decorated and credentialed as Laurie Rubel–to be so confused. She also went on to decry “color-blindness” as well. But that didn’t stop her from making the argument:

“Rubel, who taught high school math for nine years before becoming a professor, argues that while meritocracy is commonly linked to hard work and talent, it also “functions as a tool of whiteness” because it “ignores systemic barriers and institutional structures that prevent opportunity and success.”

Color-blindness, too, can be an issue for math teachers, according to Rubel, who asserts that “Teachers who claim to not notice the race of their students—are, in effect, refusing to acknowledge the impact of enduring racial stratification on students and their families.

“By claiming not to notice, the teacher is saying that she is dismissing one of the most salient features of the child’s identity and that she does not account for it in her curricular planning and instruction,” Rubel adds.

Is she right?

How could she be?

The dictionary disagrees with her. Merriam-Webster defines meritocracy as: “A system in which the talented are chosen and moved ahead on the basis of their achievement.”

So do referees. In this weekend’s playoff games, the only team that was allowed to keep the ball on any given possession was the one that had scratched out ten yards of progress. In fact they were really hard core about it because they only allowed a team to win if they had more points than the other one.

So do my kids. “Dad, I washed up first and wanted to pick the seat to sit at, and you said that whoever was the quickest to obey would get to choose.”

So do terrorists. ISIS thug #1 to ISIS thug #2, “The enemy has collapsed the outer defenses. Soon the city will be theirs.”

So do bosses, “Ok, due to the overwhelming sales numbers of sales rep Don Smith this year, we’ve decided to promote him to local business sales manager for the coming year.”

So does business. “Charlie’s Pizza Factory” gets cited for 18 health code violations, and a failure to provide proper service to its customers, and in six months has to close its doors because customers liked going to Tom’s Pizza castle that had no reports of problems.

Then why shouldn’t teachers? Especially MATH teachers?

Math isn’t an “effort” subject. It’s a precision subject. Taking precise amounts, adding to them, subtracting from them, multiplying them and dividing them–has nothing to do with feelings. It’s not about why your Dad didn’t graduate college. It has zero cares about what you think of the president. Math is completely unfeeling, and as such has the ability to help us make sense of what at times can seem to be a very confusing world.

Meritocracy should be a moral requirement of math teachers.

Do you want a doctor who didn’t have to measure the drugs he prescribes properly? Do you want a mechanic that just makes up what to charge you for a given job, regardless of his time or the cost of the parts involved? How about a lawyer, who is both charging you for his time, and attempting to secure a settlement for you–does the math involved mean anything?

I don’t understand the meme that argues that meritocracy is cruel. It’s the fairest system mankind has been able to devise.

But it is dependent upon things you would believe a Math instructor would have a grasp of: truth.

Two pennies is two cents, ninety-eight more and you have a dollar.

Her proposed solution wants to introduce “social justice” issues into the teaching of math? That we are to care more about our neighbors in teach them math? That we should take race into account first in the teaching of and expectation from the students who are learning the math?

If teachers have relatability issues to their students be it lifestyle, economic factors, race, religion, etc. then they absolutely should learn how to be more relatable.

But the solution can not be “just do your best.” Not on fact driven problem solving.

And how that is explicitly “whiteness” is beyond reason.

We want and need ALL children to be able to add 2+2. And holding them to that standard is the only thing that will help them get there.


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