Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Social Justice Math

I heard about this on America's Newsroom this morning.  At first I couldn't believe it, I mean isn't it bad enough that the US lags in math proficiency (although that is improving), do we really have to screw thing up even further? 

Apparently so according to proponents of social justice math.  Instead of letting math stand on it's own as a universal tool, groups like the New York Coalition of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) feel it necessary to add political instruction to the curriculum with questions such as this:

For generations, people in the jungles and mountains of Peru have faced the problem of getting agua potable (drinking water). For many years they bought it off tanker trucks at high prices, all the while protesting to get a water main run to their village. The government has been ignoring their requests, so activists from 3 nearby communities have started working together to solve the problem on their own.

You are an engineer who works for an organization that helps communities develop their own water sources. The villages inform you that there is an underground water source between them, so you are going to build a water pump that can then channel water to each village. The problem is that the cost of running cement piping from the water pump to the communities is very expensive.

You know that the three villages form an equilateral triangle that looks like this. The only problem is that no one has measured how far apart the villages are from each other

                                                Village A

 

Village B                                                                           Village C

Your job is to determine:

1. Where to put the water pump that would minimize the amount of piping needed

2. A method for determining the smallest number of miles of piping needed for a triangle with a given size

In general this is a valid question, but wouldn't it have been as valid without the politically loaded phrasing? 

Here is another:

The following chart lists the number of American soldiers who have died in Iraq during each month for the past year. (Source: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/iraq_casualties.htm)

Month  Casualties

July                 55

August           85

September  54

October       96

November  88

December  67

January     65

February   56

March        33

April          81

May           71

June         61

On separate paper, please answer the following questions:

First, imagine you work for the army, and you need to put out a press release that states the average number of soldiers killed per month. What number would you choose as your average? Explain how you got this number, and why you chose this as your method.

Next, imagine you are working for an Anti-war organization, and you need to put out a press release that states the average number of soldiers killed per month. What number would you choose as your average? Explain how you got this number, and why you chose this as your method.

Were the two averages you chose the same, or different? Explain why.

Essentially the students have just been told it is OK to "cook the books" in order to make their point.  Nice ethical instruction there guys.

The thing that really bothers me about this isn't even the political agenda that much, although I do think it is misplaced.  It's really the overwhelming pessimism that is contained in this curriculum.  It is just mind numbing. 

If you are hungry for more feel free to visit their resources page and look at the curriculum writing guide.  I think that will kill your appetite.

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