Tuesday, August 20, 2013

On Algebra II, badges, and race

Found on our classroom typewriter....

Algebra Two (A2) came under the cross-hairs of Harper's Magazine, and Jose Vilson, a math teacher and educational leader whose words I read a tad too close to religiously, wrote a compelling response, pointing out that eliminating mandatory A2 would add to the hurdles already imposed on kids of color:
If someone said, “Let’s end compulsory higher-order math tomorrow,” and the fallout happens across racial, gender, class lines, then I could be convinced that this was a step towards reform.
Jose Vilson

But of course it won't.

Algebra II has become a badge, one of many, that pretends to separate middle class white boys from, well, everybody else.

You can pass A2 without understanding a whole lot about mathematics, or even numbers, but the vast majority of careers that "require" A2 do not actually require that you actually use it--they just require that you have some kind of certificate saying you passed a course labeled Algebra II.

This is a predictable consequence of commodifying education, where the badge matters more than the knowledge. The Wizard of Oz is a morality play--the Scarecrow gains his power not because of what he knows, but because someone with power (an old white guy) grants him the paper that bestows him this power.

A child who truly knows A2 is far more dangerous than most kids who (finally!) pass algebra and never look back. Without the appropriate badges (or a mouthful of silver spoons), that child may as well drop out for all the good knowledge alone will do you in our culture of badges.

White boys are consistently told they are good at math.
And even if they suck at math, they know that if they persevere long enough to get the badge, they will be rewarded with gold.

Yes, I know "Arne's" grasp of the Pythagorean Theory is a tad weak--I was paraphrasing the Wizard of Oz.


Jeff Branzburg said...

Excellent - "the badge matters more than the knowledge" - sums it up totally

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