Top Dem Economist Says Woke Math Is a National Security Threat

Larry Summers blames 'social justice warriors' for giving China a leg up

Former Treasury secretary and current Harvard Professor Larry Summers makes remarks during a discussion on low-income developing countries at the annual IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings, April 13, 2016, in Washington, D.C. / Getty Images
December 6, 2021

A top Democratic economist says the rise of "antiracist" math curricula is a national security threat.

Larry Summers, a Harvard economist who led the National Economic Council under former president Barack Obama, shared a letter on Monday signed by almost 600 academics that condemns the rise of woke math initiatives in K-12 schools. The letter says the initiatives have devalued foundational math courses such as algebra and limited advanced math courses "to reduce achievement gaps." Summers called rigorous math instruction "an economic and a national security imperative," noting that "in China, math standards are not subject to continued erosion by social justice warriors who can't themselves define exponential growth or solve quadratic equations."

Radical education activists want to purge math curricula of allegedly racist practices, which include showing your work and arriving at the right answer. Democratic donors have played a role in propagating this now-popular trend in math education, the Washington Free Beacon previously reported. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation bankrolled A Pathway to Equitable Math Instruction, the nonprofit behind a curriculum that asks teachers to observe how math "is used to uphold capitalist, imperialist, and racist views."

Proponents of "antiracist" curricula often push to eliminate advanced math classes in order to reduce achievement gaps for underprivileged students. The coalition behind the open letter, k12mathmatters, says this misguided approach diminishes "access to skills needed for social mobility."

"While the U.S. K-12 system has much to improve, the current trends will instead take us further back," the letter reads. "Reducing access to advanced mathematics and elevating trendy but shallow courses over foundational skills would cause lasting damage to STEM education in the country and exacerbate inequality by diminishing access to the skills needed for social mobility."

Adrian Mims, one of the letter's signatories, told the Free Beacon that educators should focus on elevating students to advanced math classes, not trying to "lower the ceiling."

"If you do that, it's going to eliminate a lot of postsecondary opportunities for them," Mims told the Free Beacon.

The letter notes that eliminating advanced math courses would particularly harm public school students and place them at a disadvantage over students in private schools. It also warns that such reforms would reduce American students' proficiency in calculus, algebra, and logical thinking at a time when those skills "are arguably even more critical for today's grand challenges than in the Sputnik era."