Keep Politics Out of Math

Florida rejected a bunch of math textbooks because they allegedly contained a liberal bias. The left went nuts. I tended to side with the left until I read the New York Times’ breathless take on the whole thing.

Here’s one example of a math problem that was flagged as a problem by a Florida textbook reviewer. The Times presented it as an example of an obviously neutral context:

Now, I’m all for women soccer players being paid what they’re worth (just as I am for college football players getting treated fairly), but that example is 95% political message and 5% math problem.

To illustrate why this is a bad idea, let’s reverse the ideology. It’s easy to write a text that is just as loaded but from the right. Here’s my attempt at it:

The Congressional Budget Office, a non-partisan, highly respected institution, has estimated that increasing the national minimum wage would have the effect of eliminating 1.5 million jobs. If the combined average wage of the workers who would be forced into unemployment was $11.95 an hour, how much in total wages would be lost by those workers?

See what I mean? Once we go down this road of injecting a political point of view into even the wonderfully objective world of math instruction, where does it end?

What I love about things like math, physics and the hard sciences in general (ironically, topics I was horrible at in school) is that these disciplines take us to answers that are based on pure reason. Einstein called math, “the poetry of logical ideas.” How we feel about the problem or our “lived experience” counts for nothing. Two plus two will never equal three even if we would find that comforting or self-affirming or culturally competent or whatever.

The math problem that the Times used to show how clearly wrong Florida is for reviewing math textbooks for bias suggested just the opposite.

Want to read more curiously conservative views from a liberal? Pick up a copy of Light Blue: How center-left moderates can build an enduring Democratic majority.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

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