Laurie Rubel is a professor of Secondary Education at Brooklyn College in New York. According to her university biography, Rubel’s research is focused on equity in mathematics education and the use of real-world urban contexts in the teaching of mathematics.
Much of Rubel’s work is devoted to contending that white supremacy is embedded in many aspects of this country and everyday life – from the nation’s founding, to dislike of the WNBA.
Her tweet was not designed to be hyperbolic in any sense. Rubel believes that white supremacy is firmly ingrained in subjects like math, and regularly reinforced in the classroom. As the co-author of The Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations, Rubel posits that white people have developed a racial and structural advantage in education that is consistently maintained through the teaching of mathematics. She believes that concepts like suggesting America is a meritocracy, or the idea that individuals are rewarded for hard work are inherently racist towards black students. White supremacy is no more evident, she claims, than through the ideas of “meritocracy” and “color blindness”:
“…the rhetoric of meritocracy implies that success results from hard work or talent and is not a function of the myriad of institutional structures that mediate opportunities and distribute rewards according to race and social background.”
“Colorblindness, or the avoidance of or denial of signifying students’ races in curriculum, classrooms, and schools, ignores the causes and impact of enduring racial stratification.”
Rubel’s central thesis is that both “tools of whiteness” and subjects like math effectively disenfranchise students of color. Her argument is that racial disparities in students’ scores are not because of behavior, but due to systematic racism and society’s tendency to attribute poor performance to the former, and resultant refusal to latter, reinforces a system of oppression.
As if anticipating the forthcoming criticism, she alleges that critiques of her position are emblematic of racism itself. Rubel states that her critics are “blame shifting” and attempting to ignore blatant white supremacy,
“One way that white supremacists counter critiques of racism is through a tactic known as “blame-shifting.” This tactic is a self-defense maneuver in which the white supremacists defend themselves against the charge of racism by shifting that charge onto the critique itself.”
Commenting on Twitter, she claimed that she was a victim of “white-nationalists” criticizing her views.
While taking a soon apparent shot at our nation’s borders, she further elaborates on this by employing queer theory in, “Queering Mathematics.” Queer theory is an outgrowth of critical race theory, that seeks to deconstruct traditional standards of sexuality and gender in the West.
Rubel states that queer theory can be used to deconstruct or “queer” borders that both exist between countries and within classrooms and mathematics, as both are the “site of physical, social, and cultural marginalization.” To Rubel, one example of a border is the genders assigned to students,
“Conventional borders around sex, gender, and sexuality maintain these forms of marginalization and oppression that often leads to violence in schools.”
In addition to racism, she claims that toxic masculinity is inherent in mathematics, rendering it inaccessible for women:
“The masculinization of mathematics can be understood as an exclusionary border for girls and women…because to choose to participate in mathematics means to be comfortable and to welcome participating and performing in a masculine space.”
Rational and objective thinking are derided as purely “masculine” as well. The reliance on “binary thinking” (or what is right or wrong) that is inherent in mathematics is claimed by Rubel to reinforce “borders,” between race and gender.
In order to deconstruct math and its borders, Rubel advocates “queering” math to address more social justice issues. She hopes by dismantling math, the subject will be moved away from concepts like the existence of “only one right answer” and towards more subjective “lived experiences” of students.
Rubel is very open about communicating her politics in the classroom, as it is evidenced by her tweets admitting so. When asked in a tweet what her optimal classrooms look like, Rubel revealed that she lectures her students that police regularly execute black Americans while on duty.
Rubel has written extensively on using the classroom to push political ends. In an academic paper titled, “Classrooms as Laboratories of Democracy for Social Transformation,” she asserts that classrooms can be used to imbed left-wing issues into her students:
“…we outlined where data literacy is part of a collective movement toward transformation and social change.”
Another aspect of Rubel’s envisioned social transformation is the redefining of words that she disapproves of.