Campus Reform | UMich prof says math and science classes are racist

UMich prof says math and science classes are racist

A professor of mathematics criticized the purported overrepresentation of White and Asian students in the discipline.

The professor was previously dean of University of Michigan School of Education.

Deborah Ball, a mathematics professor at the University of Michigan, argued in a podcast that the discipline inflicts racism against Black and Latino students. 

On Jul 21, Ball appeared on an episode of the Ed Fix Podcast titled “Fighting Racism with Mathematics” to make her case.

Ball said on the podcast that mathematics is “dominated by Whiteness and racism.” She also expressed frustration at her mathematics and science colleagues. whom she described as resistant to her ideas that the disciplines are just as subjective in interpretation and analysis as the humanities. 

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“It’s difficult to figure out how to surface and unpack the ways that mathematics, for example is a harbor for whiteness,” Ball stated.

Last week, the University of Michigan's shared the podcast episode on its Twitter account. 

According to Ball, “Whiteness” plays an integral role in explaining the racial and ethnic disparities that exist in mathematics performance. She claimed that since White and Asian students are overrepresented in high-level mathematics, new pedagogy is required to increase access to underrepresented minority students. 

“Mathematics, despite the way we represent it, is something that many cultures and communities have created and there are people, scholars in our country, and teachers who have exploited opportunities to broaden kids’ views of mathematics," Ball said in the podcast.

More broadly, Ball views racial injustice as an issue that permeates the educational system. Writing for the Detroit Free Press on March 21, Ball stated, “As districts emerge from the quarantine of the last year, the plans for a safe return to school must take a fuller view of the safety needed to dismantle anti-Blackness and white supremacy in our educational systems.”

Additionally, her official biography states that her research uses mathematics as a way to investigate how to build relationships with children and also how to “disrupt racism, marginalization, and inequity.”

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Her past positions include dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, president of the American Educational Research Association, and member of the National Science Board. 

Currently, she teaches numerous courses in the education school’s graduate program and her curriculum places emphasis on race, justice, and inequity. 

Her syllabus for “ED 469: Foundational Perspectives on Education Reform” asks students to ponder, “How does education reform look across time in the evolution of U.S. education? How does reform reproduce larger structural and historical racism, sexism, and other patterns of exclusion and power, and (how) can it challenge and disrupt such structures?” 

The syllabus mentions "racism" or "racism" 17 times, "equity" or "inequity" 10 times, and "marginalization" or "marginalized" 3 times.

Campus Reform reached out to Deborah Ball and the University of Michigan for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.