Critical Race Theory, STEM and Fox News

Alexi Knight, Staff Writer

A few weeks ago, someone sent me a clip of Fox News’s Greg Gutfeld poking fun at the proposals made to amend education regarding race, white supremacy and colonialism here at Bates. Conservative media has been quite attentive to this situation lately after a student-run right-wing news platform called The College Fix ran an article about it a month ago. 

This article isn’t particularly well constructed or objective, and is rather fallacious in its presentation. For example, author Christian Schneider writes, “The group suggests courses like Math 105 (Calculus I) could ‘situate race, white supremacy, colonialism, power, and privilege centrally and attend to them throughout the course.” Yet, the headline is about changes to math courses. If you read the actual recommendation proposed by a working group of Bates students and faculty this summer, they take this stance towards a number of subjects at the beginning of the report, well before the section about STEM courses begins. To specifically pick out the section on math and frame it in this way is to dishonestly represent what advocates for CRT curriculum integration are asking for. 

I think the only reason STEM courses are so heavily addressed in this report is that those subjects are the ones least likely to expose students to important conversations about race and colonialism in their courses. As a psychology major and a person interested in arts and humanities, I’ve taken a wide variety of courses that discuss these subjects, including Colonial Entanglements, African American Popular Music and even several courses that aren’t considered to be “about” race, like Research Methods (where ethical research and history of unethical research on marginalized groups are discussed) and Intermediate German (where immigration, refugees, ethnicity and diversity in Germany are all studied). It’s not hard to encounter subjects like these at Bates – unless you’re a STEM major. 

While it may not seem “natural” to include these conversations into science based subjects, it might be easier than some would think. In my high school biology class, we read The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, a nonfiction book about a Black woman whose cancer cells were unknowingly harvested and researched for many years without consent or compensation. We had some fantastic conversations about the intersections between genetics, research, and race, and we were 15 or 16 years old, in a time where race was not even considered or discussed to the degree it is now five years later.

Why can’t we make this happen here, at a college that loves to advertise an inclusive environment and curriculum? Can’t Bates practice what it preaches for once, particularly when it comes to some of the college’s most popular majors like biology?

I rather begrudgingly (most days I’d rather lobotomize myself than watch Fox News) went on to watch Gutfeld’s skit about what a course entitled “Mathematics for Social Justice” might look like. I understand that his show is meant to be satirical, and I don’t disagree that he accomplishes that, but the experience of watching it is painful. 

In the skit, the professor supposedly prioritizes admittance to the course based on race, gender, and body positivity. He calls Pythagoras and Newton bigots angrily, then kicks a student out for disagreeing, screaming “you cis white homophobe!” at him as he leaves. The skit ends as the professor says their next subject of study would be how Nazis invented calculus (it was invented by that “bigot” Newton, for anyone who cares to know the real answer). 

I don’t think this skit really accomplishes anything. It certainly doesn’t address any real concerns about the proposal, and instead just throws out a bunch of sociopolitical buzzwords for the sake of seeming woke. While I support the idea of these additions to our curriculum, I can think of some more valid arguments against it (mostly in the vein of making sure students get through all the other necessary parts of the course and have time to build the skill sets and knowledge bases they need). 

Yet not one of Gutfeld’s comments really addresses any of them as he spends his time poking fun at the idea of wokeness and overall saying people just want to cancel math because they don’t understand it or don’t like doing it. I’ve certainly heard some extremely stupid reasons that people or things have been cancelled for. Yet, I don’t think encouraging people to learn about the world around them and other people’s perspectives is an example of cancel culture in the slightest.