Social Justice in Math Class

There was my latest opinion piece published in the Vancouver Sun today, and the link to the article is here.  Unfortunately, there were quite a few good research links in the article, including a short video featuring the amazing Daisy Christodoulou.  Unfortunately the links didn't carry through in the article, so I'd like to repost the opinion piece below, because there are valuable research pieces embedded in the article, and I'd like to share them as far and wide as I can. You can find them below, highlighted, in brown. Just click on the word, and either the study, video or information piece will appear.

Many thanks to you all for your ongoing support, and for helping both our teachers, and our kids, in our ongoing initiative to bring solid math instruction forward to the classroom.

This piece is straight from the heart. Enjoy.

In 2015, provincial child and youth advocate, Mary Turpel- Lafond wrote a report where she made this startling claim:  "It's yet another year where no one has written the Math 12 exam," Turpel-Lafond said.  "I've been pushing the education issue for coming on seven years.  I'm very disappointed that there isn't a single child in care that can take the Math 12 exam.  I fail to accept that and that speaks to a continued challenge, not only to MCFD, but also to schools and education."

Little has changed.

The number one social inequity in our schools today is the continued disenfranchisement of at risk youth through application of learning fads and practices in modern math curricula.  Through even the most limited examination of historical research, we KNOW that effective math instruction including mastery of math facts at the elementary level provides at risk youth improved opportunities to post-secondary education access and employability.  Unfortunately, YOUR education leaders have manipulated social equity into little more than a mud-slinging twitter verse experiment that will have NO long-term impact on the lives and futures on youth at risk in British Columbia.  If we really wanted a more harmonious and equity based Province, we need to stop pounding on social ideologies and focus on giving EVERY child real and equal access to the Canadian dream.  That will only happen when the classroom ceases to be a place of experimentation and shifts to a progressive environment of learning and opportunity for the future. 

Studies and government policy papers have already determined that the single biggest barrier to post-secondary education and economic success, hinges on learning Algebra and Geometry in Middle School.  This is nothing new.  Research studies have already determined what a strong math curriculum should look like, yet our latest rendition in BCEd, misses the mark. We already know mastering fractional arithmetic and Algebra in Middle School is critical to long term success, so why did our policy makers push BACK this operation…to Grade 8?  This places BC students 4-5 years behind their global competitors and is the weakest guideline in Canada.  How are children expected to compete at that level?  When we already know how important mastery and memory work is to a novice learner, why do our curriculum guidelines suggest that memorization is not intended at the Grade 4 level? Moreover, why do they suggest (without any shred of evidence) that memorization is harmful to students as well?

We have more empirical data than ever before on best practices for effective math instruction.  Yet despite all the evidence, our education leaders insist on toting unproven educational resources and fads intent on making snake-oil salesman profit and dumb our kids down even more.  When leading cognitive scientists speak publicly about how learning myths are damaging our children, why are BCTF associations priding themselves in sponsoring these teaching workshops? A more insightful question might be…when these and others speak about it publicly, why are they being ignored? 
A common observation at tutoring centres used to be that many kids arrived in Grade 4 or 5, their level of understanding typically began at adding 1+2.  That ridiculously low benchmark at these centres is now the standard for kids in Grade 8.  Those at the earlier grade levels don’t even have place value figured out.  And these are the lucky kids, who benefit from additional tutoring support funded by their families.  For those kids unable to receive the same level of support whom our education leaders pride themselves on championing…what happens to those kids?   There is nothing equitable about sacrificing level playing fields for children in the pursuit of edu quackery and ignoring solid evidence that supports effective math instruction.

I applaud those frontline teachers who endeavour to teach our children with the resources being forced upon them at pro D workshops – District or otherwise.  For those who continue to do right by their students, despite many being reprimanded, insisting that their students master long division, adding and subtracting fractions at the elementary level, and ensure times tables are memorized through daily practice in the classroom…thank you.  It’s insulting that in their pursuit of social equity for all students, our education leaders are deaf to the pleas for those who need it the most, and are unwilling to do anything about it.   Social Equity has a new name in BC schools:  Fake news.

Welcome to 2018.


  1. It's truly ironic that all the hoopla about social justice in the school system is unfairly disadvantaging precisely those most in need, who fare poorly when math skills are weakened in many classrooms to the point that only those who can afford out-of-school help will thrive. North Van, West Van and the Tony neighbourhoods of Victoria will do fine. Upscale suburbs will survive. The tutoring agency industry will continue to boom. And those without will struggle with sink-or-swim math years behind their global competitors-to-be in the future increasingly global economy.

    The fantasy that the way to address social inequity in math class is to inject it into the content at the expense of actual mathematical content is likely already one of the strong drivers of social inequity and if BC continues down its current path, will be so more and more going forward.


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