Who needs reality, anyway?

Dr Michael Johnston
Insights Newsletter
14 April, 2023

I remember Primary School maths as being about learning to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Once we had learned those things, we took on fractions and decimals.

There was geometry too, of course. By the Intermediate years we were tackling algebra and trigonometry.

But a brave new era is dawning in mathematics education. We no longer need all that so-called ‘objective’ arithmetic. And who says a triangle must have three sides?

The way ahead, according to the Ministry of Education, is to “use maths to develop critical awareness about wider social, environmental, political, ideological, and economic issues.”

According to the Ministry’s new Common Practice Model (CPM), what will help children learn this new kind of mathematical thinking, is something called ‘critical maths pedagogy’. The CPM tells us that children should be “encouraged to interrogate dominant discourses, including that maths is benign, neutral and culture-free”.

Teachers must no longer take for granted that arithmetic works the same for everyone. For example, whether two plus two equals four depends on a student’s cultural background. According to Jason To, President of the Ontario Mathematics Coordinators Association, if you insist that the statement, ‘two plus two equals four’ is an objective fact, you are guilty of "covert white supremacy."

Mr To is right to call out mathematics for its racism. The Arab mathematicians who gave us the concept of algorithms were heinous white supremacists. And the Indian mathematician Aryabhatta, who came up with the number zero, is known to have had a penchant for white hoods and burning crosses.

As always, the Ministry is right too. Critical pedagogy will make mathematics much easier for children to learn. If there are no ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ solutions to mathematical problems, it follows that any solution is as good as any other.

Even better, when young people leave school, getting into careers that require mathematical skills will be straightforward. Gone will be all the heavy mathematical lifting currently required to become an economist or engineer.

Having dispensed with the, frankly racist, idea that mathematical problems have ‘correct’ answers, designing a bridge will be a doddle. If mathematics is subjective, then so, by extension, are the so-called ‘laws’ of physics. And critical maths will come as a huge relief to those struggling to pay their mortgages in these days of rising interest rates.

All we need now is for reality to get with the new ‘critical maths’ programme.


Read more about the wisdom of Jason To

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