Columnist Walter Williams recently wrote a piece entitled “Why Not Do Something About Equal Education for Minorities,” lambasting efforts to promote diversity in education. As usual, his critique falls flat due to misrepresenting his opponents’ arguments.
Mr. Williams mentions a mathematician who wrote a book about how modern math education “promotes whiteness.” I’m assuming he’s referring to Dr. Rochelle Gutierrez. Her writing triggered a knee jerk reaction from Williams, among other conservative writers, causing them to completely misinterpret her work. Gutierrez never said that doing algebra is racist or that we should ban subtraction, for example. She argued that our present day educational institutions, e.g. the schools, those who administer them, what they choose to teach and how, etc., discriminate against minorities. For example, government budgets continue to allocate less resources to mainly minority schools compared to their white counterparts. Numerous studies show bias in teaching, grading and disciplining minority students. Minorities are less likely to be hired as teachers and are paid less. When examining math in particular, courses often overlook the contributions of ancient, non-western civilizations, instead opting to focus soly on the Greeks. However you frame this issue, people of color are not getting the same opportunities as light skinned folks, and they are not being taught accurate history.
Williams fully admits there is a problem, but his analysis of it is incoherent. He simultaneously says that minority children need better education, yet attacks any effort to achieve it as “lowering standards.” He writes, “Black people should not allow themselves to be used at the college level to help white liberals feel better about themselves and keep their federal grant money.” If Williams bothered to read academics like Gutierrez, he’d realize these people have been criticizing tokenism (only putting one or two people of color in a school and calling it a day) for years as a half-baked, racist policy. Virtually none of these writers are arguing to lower standards. They’re pushing to make education a place that is inclusive for all people, regardless of skin tone.
Schools by no means have to lower their standards to fix the issue. What we need to do is: (1) give equal funding to predominately minority and white schools; (2) change our curriculum to accurately teach other histories and cultures, not just American and European accomplishments; (3) end the school to prison pipeline that focuses on incarcerating minority students, and (4) end discrimination in teaching, hiring and pay within schools. This list is not exhaustive, but implementing these will help to dismantle white supremacy in this part of the globe.
Michael Steven Frank