Watered-down standards for the sake of diversity, equity, and inclusion could lead to the U.S. forfeiting its traditional dominance in the field of mathematics when, at the same time, China is vigorously ramping up its merit-based programs for students identified as gifted, even starting in middle school.
That is the general message from three math scholars who came to America as immigrants themselves because of the opportunity to obtain a quality education.
In a seeming reversal of that trend, they claim that China is positioning itself to recruit top talent from around the world for its research institutions as well as retain some its best home-grown scientists and engineers, while already jumping ahead of the U.S. in key fields such as quantum computing.
This is all unfolding as China aggressively expands its economic, political, military, and cultural influence, as well as its opposition to free speech, across the globe while the U.S. unfortunately, under the current administration, appears to be waning as a world power.
Internally, China doesn’t let itself get distracted with pronouns or identity politics and instead focuses on merit at all levels of the education sector, the mathematician trio claimed, to develop world-class STEM experts.
The professors, Percy Deift, Svetlana Jitomirskaya, and Sergiu Klainerman (of New York University, Georgia Institute of Technology and University of California Irvine, and Princeton University, respectively) authored a lengthy essay in Quillette that is headlined “As US Schools Prioritize Diversity Over Merit, China Is Becoming the World’s STEM Leader,” which you can read in its entirety and draw your own conclusions.
The authors acknowledge that social justice initiatives might have noble motives, but they are undermining America’s ability to compete, given what they consider “the deplorable state of our K-12 math education system.”
Far too few American public-school children are prepared for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). This leaves us increasingly dependent on a constant inflow of foreign talent…
The second reason for concern is that the nationwide effort to reduce racial disparities, however well-intentioned, has had the unfortunate effect of weakening the connection between merit and scholastic admission. It also has served (sometimes indirectly) to discriminate against certain groups—mainly Asian Americans.
The social-justice rhetoric used to justify these diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) programs is often completely at odds with the reality one observes on campuses. The concept of fighting “white supremacy,” in particular, doesn’t apply to the math field, since American-born scholars of all races now collectively represent a small (and diminishing) minority of the country’s academic STEM specialists.
Among other issues raised in their article, the scholars insist that the standard math K-12 curriculum is wanting and “This has been true for some time. But the trend has become more noticeable in recent years, as curricula increasingly shift from actual mathematics knowledge to courses about social justice and identity politics.”
They also suggest that requiring math majors to complete the bureaucracy-required teacher certification is more or less a waste of time and is seldom required in private schools which already often offer higher quality math instruction.
In the end, so-called diversity/inclusion becomes counterproductive because it harms those it purports to help, the mathematicians insisted:
But what started as a well-meaning and sometimes beneficial effort has, over time, transformed into a bureaucratic machine whose goal has gone well beyond fighting discrimination. The new goal is to eliminate disparities in representation by any means possible…This trend, which reaches across many fields, is especially self-defeating in mathematics, because declining standards in K-12 math education are now feeding into a vicious cycle that threatens to affect all STEM disciplines. As already noted, low-quality K-12 public-school education produces students who exhibit sub-par math skills, with underprivileged minorities suffering the most.
This in turn leads to large disparities in admissions at universities, graduate programs, faculty, and STEM industry positions. Those disparities are then, in turn, condemned as manifestations of systemic racism—which results in administrative measures aimed at lowering evaluation criteria. This lowering of standards leads to even worse outcomes and larger disparities, thus pushing the vicious cycle through another loop. The short-term fix is a quota system. But when applied to any supposedly merit-based selection process, quotas are usually counterproductive…
Universities are even implementing hiring and promotion practices based on certain diversity metrics or activities rather than based on teaching or research quality, the authors indicated.
The authors also imply that anti-merit, far-left education gatekeepers, unlike their counterparts in China, are lackluster students of history:
Having learned its lesson from the Cultural Revolution, when science and merit-based education were all but obliterated in favor of ideological indoctrination, China is pursuing a far-sighted, long-term strategy to create a world-leading corps of elite STEM experts…As part of this effort, China is identifying and nurturing talented math students as early as middle school…As visitors to these Chinese universities (including ourselves) can attest, the average math undergraduate is now performing at a much higher level than his or her counterpart at comparable US institutions.
The math professors temper their praise of China’s STEM nurturing while acknowledging the country is in the grip of a CCP-controlled dictatorship.
“We do not wish to gloss over China’s status as an authoritarian country that exhibits little concern for personal freedoms,” they contend. “But acknowledging this fact only serves to emphasize the significance of the shift we are describing: The drawbacks of American education policies are so pronounced that US schools are now losing their ability to attract elite scholars despite the fact that the United States offers these academics a freer and more democratic environment.”
The trio of professors recommends that the U.S. education system reverse course before it’s too late and “prioritize the development of comprehensive STEM curricula, at both basic and advanced levels, and allow outstanding mathematicians and other scientists to assist public servants in their design.”
“More broadly, American educators must return to a process of recruitment and promotion based on merit, at all levels of education and research…
“Instead of implementing divisive policies based on the premise of rooting out invisible forms of racism, or seeking to deconstruct the idea of merit in spurious ways, organizations should redirect their (by now substantial) DEI budgets toward more constructive goals, such as funding outreach programs, and even starting innovative new charter schools for underprivileged K-12 students,” they wrote.
The authors, in particular, warned that influential California, in trying to install equity in public school math education, “leaves students completely unprepared for most STEM undergraduate degrees.”
Similarly perhaps, Oregon’s Democrat Gov. Kate Brown last month signed a law, in the name of equity, that dropped reading, writing, and math proficiency requirements as a condition for obtaining a high school diploma in the state.
Leading California recall candidate Larry Elder has promised to upgrade California schools, and champion school choice, if enough voters vote yes on recalling Gov. Gavin Newsom.
In public school districts across the country, concerned parents have shown up at school board meetings to demand that classroom materials focus on reading, writing, and mathematics rather than far-left indoctrination such as divisive critical race theory or equivalent ideological constructs that contribute nothing to developing productive and unified members of society.
Parenthetically, CRT has also found its way into private schools.
Some of these school boards and teachers’ unions, for whatever reason, are digging in their heels, however.
Although government entities don’t function as a business, when consumers reject a product or service, the business usually either discontinues that product or fixes it.
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