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New York Post

 

Radical Teach

May 12, 2007

By Sol Stern

N.Y.C. Schools' New Fad

MORE than 400 New York City high-school math teachers and education professors gathered in Brooklyn late last month for a three-day conference on "Creating Balance in an Unjust World: Math Education and Social Justice."

At many of the 28 workshops, city math teachers proudly showed how they used classroom projects to inculcate their students in seeing social problems from a radical, anti-capitalist perspective.

At a plenary session, Prof. Marilyn Frankenstein of the University of Massachussets' math-ed department proclaimed that elementary-school math teachers shouldn't use traditional math lessons where students calculate the cost of food. Instead, they should use lessons to get their students to see that in a truly "just society," food would "be as free as breathing the air."

The city's Department of Education insists nothing was inappropriate about its teachers participating in the radical conference. In fact, the DOE got the whole ball rolling with a grant to Jonathan Osler, a math teacher at El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice (a small social-justice high school in Brooklyn).

Back in 2005, Osler and two colleagues from other schools applied to the DOE's Zone Teacher Inquiry Grants Program for aid in "the creation of a system to bring together NYC math teachers to share, ideas, curriculum, resources, and experiences integrating issues of social justice into math classes."

Osler & Co. listed some issues to explore in math class: "Check cashing locations ripping off poor people. H&R Block and Jackson Hewitt ripping off poor people. Foreclosure agencies ripping off poor people. Issues of joblessness, homelessness, incarceration, lack of funding for education, excessive funding for war."

DOE decided this was worth $3,000 in city funds - giving its official imprimatur for the idea of teaching for "social justice" in math class.

Conference participants got to observe model "social justice" lessons in math classes in seven city public schools. East Side Community HS, for example, showed off its "The Mathematics of Sweatshop Labor" project (taught in

Algebra II), in which students calculate the degree of wage exploitation in a sneaker factory in Nicaragua and then comment on the injustice of it all.

What if you're a parent with the old-fashioned view that public education in a democracy must be politically neutral - that teachers have an ethical and professional responsibility to keep their politics (left, right or center) out of the classroom? What if you don't want your child to waste precious time on "Sweatshop Math"?

Well, you won't get much help from the city Department of Education.

A few days before the conference, I provided Schools Chancellor Joel Klein with details on the city teachers and schools participating. His response:

"This is a private conference, at which a range of views will be expressed. It seems that many of these views are hardly 'radical.' . . . In any case, the people who are speaking at this conference are participating in their personal capacity, not as representatives of the Department of Education. We are committed to making sure that all of our teachers teach math to our high standards."

Since gaining control of the city schools in 2002, Mayor Bloomberg has won the plaudits of business leaders for his corporate-style reorganization of the system and for supporting market-oriented initiatives such as charter schools and merit pay for teachers. But there has been a dark side: a hands-off approach to what's actually taught.

The result has been travesties like the radical math conference and the proliferation of social-justice schools - and the legitimization of bringing leftist politics into the classroom.

It's ironic that, as Mayor Bloomberg extols the benefits of the market approach in education, his schools are becoming rife with radical teachers using the classroom to trash the American system of market capitalism.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/05122007/postopinion/opedcolumnists/radical_teach_opedcolumnists_sol_stern.htm

 

 
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