According to Bill Gates, math is racist. Judging from where he spends his money, the Microsoft co-founder seems to believe it suffers from white supremacy and the billionaire is funding a course teaching that to kids. He’s already handed out a $1 million grant.
Bill Gates’ foundation, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, recently handed over the sizable grant to The Education Trust Inc., the non-profit that, per their mission statement, “works to close opportunity gaps that disproportionately affect students of color and students from low-income families.” A very worthy cause, no doubt. But what is making its way around social media is a screenshot of the EquitableMath.org website and its corresponding statement, “White supremacy culture shows up in math classrooms when…The focus is on getting the ‘right’ answer.”
The Equitable Math method is a teaching method that is beginning to take shape in Seattle, WA. Bill Gates is a resident of Washington. It consists of five “Strides”, the first one getting by far the most attention. Stride One is titled “Dismantling Racism in Mathematics” and its description is taking quite a bit of heat. The lesson, aimed at educators, asks them to “reflect on their own biases to transform their instructional practice,” while calling out its “collective approach to dismantling white supremacy.” This first Stride also asks for educators to avoid certain ideas that reinforce “paternalism” and “powerhoarding” and that they should continue to challenge themselves to “incorporate antiracist practices” inside their classrooms. All of this can be read here.
The curriculum surrounding Equitable Math takes many of its thoughts from Robin DiAngelo’s bestselling book White Fragility wherein DiAngelo writes, “Whiteness is dynamic, relational, and operating at all times and by myriad levels. These processes and practices include basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives and experiences purported to be commonly shared by all, but which are actually only consistently afforded to white people.”
DiAngelo’s lessons caused some major controversy recently when they were used in diversity training for Coca-Cola, which was promoted by LinkedIn. The course, titled “Confronting Racism”, was complained about by a Coca-Cola employee after it asked employees to “try to be less white.” Not only did LinkedIn remove the course from Coca-Cola, but they also removed it completely from their library. “The Confronting Racism course featuring Robin DiAngelo is no longer available in our course library, at the request of the 3rd party content provider we licensed this content from,” LinkedIn vice president of corporate communications Nicole Leverich wrote to Newsweek.
“Dismantling Racism in Mathematics” is just one part of a larger sum called A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction, which is a toolkit that takes its aim at teachers of grades 6-8. The goal is to help reeducate teachers on their racist ways of thinking and teaching by offering up different ways of combating their “underlying inherently racist beliefs and biases, positionality, and personal power within that positionality.”
All of this circles around the core belief of the toolkit. That being, kids of color interpret and use math differently than white students. The thought behind those who put the toolkit together is that if you teach students the “right way” of actually doing math then you are reinforcing the white supremacy culture.
Part of the text states, “It allows the defensiveness of Western mathematics to prevail, without addressing underlying causes of why certain groups of students are ‘underperforming,’ a characterization that should also be interrogated,” warns the text. “It also presupposes that ‘good’ math teaching is about a Eurocentric type of mathematics, devoid of cultural ways of being.”
Neither Bill Gates, his wife Melinda, or their Foundation have explained why they are backing these teachings. According to the Washington Free Bacon, the Gates Foundation has given nearly “$140 million to some of the groups behind Pathway, whose antiracist resources are the basis for a new teacher training course offered by the Oregon Department of Education.”
As mentioned, these teachings have already made their way into Seattle Public Schools in Bill gates’ home state of Washington. Garfield High’s Shraddha Shirude is in her second year as a math teacher and she is leading an elective course – Ethnic Studies Math. “You can see math everywhere in the world and in every interaction, whether that’s human … animal … plant … universe. But that’s not how we’re taught to look at it, and that’s how it’s used to oppress people,” she explained to the South Seattle Emerald.
“How is math used for oppression? The easiest way to look at it — which is a social justice math way of looking at it — is when you don’t teach a student how math can impact them in the real world, then you’re doing them a disservice, and therefore you’re oppressing their knowledge and understanding.” Shirude had more to say on this matter: “Yet if you’re teaching them to understand and accept the world as it is, you risk harming and possibly re-oppressing them. Teaching them why it matters to them personally is how you actually support every student of every race in one lesson. You teach them to consider their identity and ask: ‘How can I make the world better?’”
It is unknown, other than Seattle-based schools, how many others have or plan on adopting this curriculum but a quick peek at the website shows many California-based partners which include the Association of California School Administrators, Monterey County Office of Education, the Sacramento County Office of Education, and Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley.
Times are changing and Bill Gates is spending money to make sure they change in the way he wants.