Ontario parents, teachers despise 'woke math,' but fear repercussions from public pushback

According to the Ontario Mathematics Coordinators Association (OMCA), two plus two no longer equals four — because math is now a white supremacist dog whistle.

Ontario parents, teachers despise 'woke math,' but fear repercussions from public pushback
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Ontario Mathematics Coordinators Association (OMCA) president Jason To, who is also the coordinator of secondary mathematics at the Toronto District School Board, has suggested that people who say "2 + 2 = 4" are engaged in "Covert White Supremacy." 

As a radical advocate for "transforming your math classrooms," To led over 200 teachers from nearly 60 Toronto schools through a workshop last September to incorporate an "anti-oppressive lens" into their work. 

Among the slides, he introduced the "Co-Conspirator Framework" to establish "Critical Consciousness" to better understand "bias, power, privilege, and oppression." Participants confronted "Ideologies" such as "white supremacy" and "colonialism" and challenged "Individual Actions" including "microaggressions" as well as other "oppressive practices in classrooms."

Beneath the graphic, To encouraged teachers to "co-conspire" with a list of stakeholders, including students. He also featured a pyramid of "White Supremacy in Math Education." 

At the pyramid's apex, To included examples of "overt white supremacy" that any reasonable person would consider racist, while the base showed what To thought as "covert white supremacy." 

To defines covert forms of white supremacy as the "Eurocentric math curriculum" plaguing the curriculum and "Standardized testing." He cited statements like "Just stick to math," "I don't see colour in my math class," and "Of course, math is neutral because 2+2=4" as problematic.

Former OMCA president Heather Theijsmeijer, who supported the presentation, concurred that "2 + 2 = 4" proponents are grounded "in white, Western mathematics that marginalizes other possible values."

While math becomes increasingly hyper-politicized, student proficiency in the subject continues to drop. 

According to provincial standardized testing administered by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), less than half of Ontario sixth-grade students meet provincial math standards. In 2018/19, 75% of ninth-graders demonstrated sufficient skill in math — three years later, that's down to 52%.

Many teachers and parents have become deeply uneasy about the injection of politics in math. Alarmingly, many are petrified to speak — even anonymously — about their experience for fear of losing their jobs. 

Wayne, a lifelong educator, confessed his misgivings about Ontario's education by saying if this "gets out, I'm done."

Catherine Kronas, a concerned mother and former trustee candidate from Hamilton, reflected that "there are parents who are completely alarmed at what's happening but fearful of speaking up more."

"I was surfacing some of these issues in Facebook groups and getting shut down, my posts deleted. But talking to parents on the ground, individually, people are beginning to notice something is going on. People are very concerned to the point where they are afraid to discuss it," she said.

Devan Singh, the head of mathematics at Elsie MacGill Secondary School in Milton, responded to concerns from one community member that this appeared to fit a pattern of growing politicization of curriculum.

"What political ideologies might those be? For example, is acknowledging systemic racism existing as a political ideology?" the teacher asked. 

Singh replied: "I think everything is political, but to what degree is acceptable, I think, is the debate," but declined to comment further.

However, woke math advocates pivoted from the falling performance of students, stating the curriculum needs to incorporate Indigenous Knowledge Systems and anti-racism to counter white supremacy and Eurocentrism.

Jeffrey, a soft-spoken Ontario math teacher, admitted most teachers would adopt the curriculum for fear of being considered a racist. 

"I'm sure there are interesting things in here," he said of Indigenous Knowledge. Yet, the math teacher questioned whether such "skills are still relevant to the workforce today."

National Review, which reported on To's activities, requested comment from Theijsmeijer and OMCA but neither had responded by the time of publication.

The EQAO documented the continuous decline of math scores among third- and sixth-graders over the past decade, but efforts to right the ship have failed — despite later admitting the shortcomings of Discovery Math.

Between 2012 and 2018, sixth-grade scores declined by a fifth, with less than half of students meeting provincial standards. Third-grade students performed slightly better, with only a 15% drop.

In 2018, Premier Doug Ford campaigned to roll back Discovery Math and pledged to reintroduce a "Back-to-Basics" approach. But his long-awaited curriculum update in June 2021 still needed to eliminate Woke Math concepts.

Instead, the new curriculum disclaimers that math "has been used to normalize racism and marginalization of non-Eurocentric mathematical knowledge, and a decolonial, anti-racist approach to mathematics education makes visible its historical roots and social constructions." 

Embedded throughout their proposal, Ford's government referenced "anti-racist and anti-oppressive teaching and learning opportunities" and "the colonial contexts of present-day mathematics education."

The Ontario Tories adopted the sentiment espoused in the OMCA presentation last September.

To explained to TVO Today that anti-racist math lifts the "veil of objectivity" surrounding the subject. "Now we can start interrogating some of the dangers of how mathematics has been practiced and used."

The math coordinator claimed math use in North America embedded biases that led to disproportionately adverse outcomes for ethnic minorities but did not elaborate further.

However, he expressed his frustrations with Ford "trying to keep this perceived objectivity of mathematics as something that should be sacred and untouched." To declined to comment further.

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  • By Drea Humphrey

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