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Leave Math Alone

A group of British math professors has published an open letter opposing the “politicizing” math degrees. Actually, in the U.K., they say “maths degrees.”

What is this about? Recently a movement has grown, calling math a racist colonial pursuit and that it should be taught in a more diverse way. New guidance from the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) states that “the curriculum should present a multicultural and decolonised view of mathematics, statistics and operational research, informed by the student voice.”

But, this is math we are talking about. The professors say that they “abhor racism, but one can abhor racism without subscribing to the theory of decoloniality.” They say they do not think math is a “particularly European paradigm” but it almost doesn’t matter because very little history of math is taught in math courses. Math is taught in math classes.

“As just one example, the Japanese mathematician Seki and the Swiss mathematician Bernoulli both studied what are now called Bernoulli numbers,” the professors say. “We agree that where practical the mathematical community should use terminology that gives non- Western mathematicians proper credit, but this is not the meaning of decoloniality.”

The worry is that mandating a “diverse” teaching of math will lead to a “skewed perspective on the history of mathematics, seen entirely through the lens of the theory of decoloniality.” They ask that the standards board “Avoid promoting any particular political perspectives, no matter how laudable.”

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