Mirror of “CUNY Professor Denounces Meritocracy and Color-Blindness In Math As “Tool of Whiteness””

We recently discussed how University of Illinois math professor Rochelle Gutierrez triggered a national controversy over her work “Building Support for Scholarly Practices in Mathematics Methods” in which she criticized math classes as a “tool of whiteness.” Now, CUNY Professor Laurie Rubel has published a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Mathematics Education arguing that the concepts of meritocracy and “color-blindness” are ideological precepts that work against minorities. It is a worrisome trend among academics to challenge even the most objective fields of advancement as requiring a more race-conscious approach.

Rubel is a former high school math teacher who published an article entitled Equity-Directed Instructional Practices: Beyond the Dominant Perspective.

She writes “Teachers who claim color-blindness . . . are, in effect, refusing to acknowledge the impact of enduring racial stratification on students and their families.” She insists that by rewarding students on their performance — or ability to do math — math “functions as a tool of whiteness.”

Thus, if a teacher sees all students as equal and simply grades math courses based on actual math, Rubel insists that they are little better than outright racists: “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.”

There is no debate over the need to work to overcome the barriers to minority students for opportunities in education. However, math has always been one of the greatest equalizers, no pun intended. As I discussed earlier, it is a shame to see math treated as a field of privilege when many of us view it as a field of pure intellectual pursuit and bias neutrality. Either the math is there or it is not. The race of the mathematician will not change the outcome. Moreover, the way to fight any bias is to leave “political knowledge” outside of the classroom.