Recently, Eloy Ortiz Oakley, who is the current chancellor of the California community college system made some statements that reverberated throughout the Internet (and the offline world too).
Mr. Oakley said that lots of students of color are not graduating from California community colleges because they can’t get past Algebra. (I was not able to get exact numbers, but according to this NPR article, 60% of community college students are required to take at least one Math course; and 80% of them do not finish it. That’s a staggering number!)
Of the Math courses that students are required to take, Intermediate Algebra was cited (in the NPR article and in other sources) to be the biggest obstacle.
The quote from the article/interview that stood out the most to me is this:
The second thing I’d say is yes, this is a civil rights issue, but this is also something that plagues all Americans — particularly low-income Americans. If you think about all the underemployed or unemployed Americans in this country who cannot connect to a job in this economy — which is unforgiving of those students who don’t have a credential — the biggest barrier for them is this algebra requirement. It’s what has kept them from achieving a credential.
I can empathize with not liking the fact many non-whites and poor people don’t graduate. A good portion of our clients are not what I would describe as “wealthy” or “privileged.” And based on their names, I would also guess that a large amount of them are black and/or Latino. Even the white clients I’ve had do not strike me as being wealthy. What they all have in common, however, is that they want to get a credential and have a shot at professional advancement.
Many people have twisted the Mr. Oakley’s logic to mean that Algebra is racist. What they mean is that because a disproportionate amount of non-white students are hindered by Algebra requirements, that something is terribly wrong and needs to be corrected. This logic got twisted even further (in some shadier corners of the Internet) to “black and brown people are too dumb to pass Algebra.” Those articles and posts were painful to read.
In another article in the Washington Examiner, I found some interesting quotes–in the “Algebra is NOT racist” line of thinking–that I’d like to share…
But what I marvel at is how [Mr. Oakley’s] interview seems reflects a blind faith in the magical powers of a college degree. In the interest of making sure everyone gets one, we simply stop making them studying things that are challenging and important in life, because it’s the degree itself that is most important.
I agree so much with this sentiment. When I tell people about what I do for living (i.e. get paid to take people’s Math classes), some of them may think my work is scummy, but they always agree that the credentialism plaguing the education system is the bigger culprit.
this does not sound like a good way to attract students to STEM fields ? it sounds like a good way of locking them out of STEM fields by depriving them of the mathematical tools they’d need to enter them
It’s well-known that STEM fields are often the best way to obtain a high-paying job. Students who cannot even pass Algebra are effectively shut out from many of the most lucrative and rewarding jobs in the world.
My thoughts on this will be continued in a future blog post. There is so much to ponder about Math requirements, race, and (socioeconomic) class…
As always, if you want to chime in about this issue or hire us to take your required Math classes,
you can contact us anytime.