'Ethnomathematics' arrival adds to spin of multiculturalism

Gregory Kane

WHEN GOV. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. called multiculturalism "bunk" and "crap" about a year ago, you'd have thought, judging from the reaction of some folks, that he'd just taken out a lifetime membership in the Ku Klux Klan.

With the advent of "ethnomathematics," maybe some of those same folks will climb down off the governor's back. But I'm getting just a wee bit ahead of the discussion I had with Ehrlich at the governor's mansion Friday.

The governor rehashed that multiculturalism business so he could clarify what his views are - and aren't.

In May 2004, state Comptroller William Donald Schaefer complained about a worker at an area fast-food restaurant who had what might be generously called insufficient English skills. Schaefer wondered why new immigrants didn't simply learn English.

The next day Ehrlich expressed his support for Schaefer on a local radio station.

"Once you get into this multicultural crap, this bunk that some folks are teaching in our college campuses and in other places, you run into a problem," the governor said.

Two other columnists for this paper said Ehrlich's comments were divisive. A Sun editorial called the comments of Ehrlich and Schaefer "highly inappropriate" and did so in several languages, only one of which this paper is printed in on a regular basis.

"The majority of Marylanders - and Americans - understood exactly what I said," Ehrlich said. "It was fascinating to me to see The Sun's editorial board and others' attempts to twist my words. What I said was common sense."

Ehrlich stressed that he attended the African American Heritage Festival and the opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum on Friday. He attended a Greek festival the week before.

"We live in a rich and diversified city and state," the governor said. "We celebrate our ethnicity through festivals, through dinners, through awards programs. That's what the melting pot truly is. That's the strength of the country.

"But there are certain common denominators running through those groups, and it's called 'Americans.' It is called a singular American culture with a language, with a history, with a Bill of Rights, with democracy and capitalism and these are fundamental elements of the American culture. And so those who try to separate out from that culture I find dangerous and I reject the notion."

"Separating out" isn't the only thing to reject when it comes to multiculturalism. Multiculturalism is a movement and mindset that cannot and should not be interchanged with "multiethnicity." Multiculturalism has inspired what have become veritable "victim studies" departments on college and university campuses where the "bash white males" theme runs rampant.

You can't mention the Constitution these days without some student trained in multiculturalism claiming the document is flawed because the white males who wrote it condoned slavery. The proper way to evaluate those white males is not by today's standards, but by those present in 1787-1789.

Compared with white males of other countries, our white males in America stack up pretty well. They surely come out way ahead of nonwhite males of the same era. I defy anyone to name 18th-century males of any color who produced a Constitution as good, enduring and amenable to amending as what America's white males produced.

This thinking runs counter to multiculturalism, whose adherents figure it's best to bash America's white males - living or dead - early and often. That seems to be the goal of ethnomathematics, according to a recent Wall Street Journal column written by educator Diane Ravitch.

"Two plus two equals five?" the governor asked when I brought up the subject of ethnomathematics.

No, simply an attempt to give math a politically correct bent. From the description Ravitch gave, ethnomathematics seems to have spawned directly from the minds of America's "bash white males" contingent.

Adherents of ethnomathematics believe that the math Ehrlich learned at Gilman and the rest of us learned in our high schools "is the property of Western Civilization and is inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors," Ravitch wrote.

In other words: white males.

Ravitch said one of the goals of "ethnomathematicians" is to teach "social justice mathematics." She gave some lowlights from a new textbook, Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers. Topics include "Chicanos Have Math in Their Blood," "Home Buying While Brown or Black" and - you guessed it - "Multicultural Math."

"Unbelievable," Ehrlich said after hearing about the latest multicultural mania. "On this general topic [of multiculturalism], I think any social movement that tends to separate a group out from mainstream culture I deem dangerous."

If the governor thinks multiculturalism is dangerous now, wait until ethnomathematics is taught to American students already dangerously behind their counterparts in other industrialized nations when it comes to things like algebra and calculus.
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