This seemed terribly relevant.....it was in todays online Wall Street Journal:

Ethnomathematics

By DIANE RAVITCH

June 20, 2005; Page A14

It seems our math educators no longer believe in the beauty and

power of the principles of mathematics. They are continually in

search of a fix that will make it easy, relevant, fun, and even

politically relevant. In the early 1990s, the National Council of

Teachers of Mathematics issued standards that disparaged basic

skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division,

since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator. The

council preferred real life problem solving, using everyday

situations. Attempts to solve problems without basic skills caused

some critics, especially professional mathematicians, to deride

the "new, new math" as "rainforest algebra."

In a comparison of a 1973 algebra textbook and a 1998 "contemporary

mathematics" textbook, Williamson Evers and Paul Clopton found a

dramatic change in topics. In the 1973 book, for example, the index

for the letter "F" included "factors, factoring, fallacies, finite

decimal, finite set, formulas, fractions, and functions." In the

1998 book, the index listed "families (in poverty data), fast food

nutrition data, fat in fast food, feasibility study, feeding tours,

ferris wheel, fish, fishing, flags, flight, floor plan, flower beds,

food, football, Ford Mustang, franchises, and fund-raising carnival."

Those were the days of innocent dumbing-down. Now mathematics is

being nudged into a specifically political direction by educators

who call themselves "critical theorists." They advocate using

mathematics as a tool to advance social justice. Social justice math

relies on political and cultural relevance to guide math

instruction. One of its precepts is "ethnomathematics," that is, the

belief that different cultures have evolved different ways of using

mathematics, and that students will learn best if taught in the ways

that relate to their ancestral culture. From this perspective,

traditional mathematics -- the mathematics taught in universities

around the world -- is the property of Western Civilization and is

inexorably linked with the values of the oppressors and conquerors.

The culturally attuned teacher will learn about the counting system

of the ancient Mayans, ancient Africans, Papua New Guineans, and

other "non-mainstream" cultures.

Partisans of social justice mathematics advocate an explicitly

political agenda in the classroom. A new textbook, "Rethinking

Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers," shows how

problem solving, ethnomathematics and political action can be

merged. Among its topics are: "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on

poverty, globalization, and the unequal distribution of wealth.

Another topic, drawn directly from ethnomathematics, is "Chicanos

Have Math in Their Blood." Others include "The Transnational Capital

Auction," "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or

Black." Units of study include racial profiling, the war in Iraq,

corporate control of the media, and environmental racism. The theory

behind the book is that "teaching math in a neutral manner is not

possible." Teachers are supposed to vary the teaching of mathematics

in relation to their students' race, gender, ethnicity, and

community.

This fusion of political correctness and relevance may be the next

big thing to rock mathematics education, appealing as it does to

political activists and to ethnic chauvinists.

It seems terribly old-fashioned to point out that the countries that

regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do

not use the subject to steer students into political action. They

teach them instead that mathematics is a universal language that is

as relevant and meaningful in Tokyo as it is in Paris, Nairobi and

Chicago. The students who learn this universal language well will be

the builders and shapers of technology in the 21st century. The

students in American classes who fall prey to the political designs

of their teachers and professors will not.

Ms. Ravitch is a historian of education at New York University, a

senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the

Koret Task Force at the Hoover Institution.