Posts Tagged ‘Archimedes’

Anti-White Black Racism in Seattle’s Decolonised Mathematics Syllabus

September 20, 2020

This is another video from Sargon of Akkad, the man who broke UKIP. He put it up nearly a year ago in October 2019, and the subject he discusses comes from a Daily Caller article two years before that in 2017. It’s about the move from Seattle’s public schools board to get Black students to do better at mathematics by producing a syllabus that aims to teach them how White mathematics is being used to oppress them, and how they also use it to liberate people and communities of colour.

The maths syllabus is the creation of Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle public schools, and deals explicitly with issues like ‘origins, identity and agency’, and ‘power and oppression’. The article shows the syllabus itself and what it aims to teach Seattle’s schoolkids. This starts off by teaching them that mathematical theory is rooted in ancient histories and empires of colour. Sargon doesn’t have a problem with this, as mathematical theories and formulae have been discovered independently by different peoples over time. The Babylonians, he rightly says, had versions of Pythagoras’ theorem. But he makes the point that ’empires of colour’ can also mean ‘oppressors of colour’, as this is what empires are: one ethnic group ruling another.

The syllabus then moves to demand that teachers and students ‘create counterknowledge to origins of mathematical knowledge’. This teaching ‘power and oppression in western maths’. The syllabus claims that western maths is seen as the only legitimate mathematics, and is used to disenfranchise people of colour. It erases the historical contribution of people of colour. Sargon replies by stating that different peoples have indeed independently discovered different maths theorems and formulae, but that Western maths is based on the Greeks. The syllabus also requires students to learn the history of resistance and liberation of people of colour using maths, engineering and technology. Sargon says he knows some great stories, but they are all about western maths. Like how Archimedes defended Syracuse against a Roman invasion by having the Greek soldiers align their bronze shields so that they reflected the sun’s rays as a kind of death ray. He also tells the story of Archimedes’ death. The Romans sent a soldier to capture him. When the soldier finally caught him, Archimedes was busy trying to draw a perfect circle by going through as many small points as possible. He told the soldier not to bother him, so that the soldier stabbed him with his sword.

The syllabus also includes more general questions, asking students how the feel about themselves as mathematicians and who is a mathematician? Sargon argues that a mathematician is someone who gets a problem right. But he also says that he doesn’t know, because he’s been using maths in ordinary life since he left school, as well as in computers, but doesn’t think of himself as a mathematician. He also remarks that he studied logarithms at school, and after twenty or so years still hasn’t been in a sitution that requires them. Students are also asked what it means to make a mistake, and where does power and oppression show up in people’s maths experiences. Sargon jokingly responds to this that it shows up in his maths teacher, who told him off for getting his maths wrong. there are also questions like ‘how and why does data-driven processes prevent liberation?’, ‘how is maths manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?’, ‘how has maths been used to liberate people and communities and colour from oppression?’ and ‘Can you advocate against oppressive mathematical practices?’

As Sargon points out at the beginning of his video, this is all about teaching Black children that they are oppressed, and White children that they should feel guilty. It’s political activism that shouldn’t have a place in maths. He also argues that some of this is actually dangerous when it comes to claiming that there is a distinction between White and Black mathematics. mathematical facts are true regardless of race or culture, and lives may depend on their correct application. For example, planes depend on engineers understanding the equations governing aerodynamics. These have to be correct, and it doesn’t matter whether the person doing these is White or Black. It’s either right or wrong, and if it’s wrong, then people may die.

I realise that Sargon is a man of the right, even extreme right, and that he himself says that this subject has already been discussed in right-wing newspapers and internet sites. Nevertheless, I think this is important and needs to be discussed and refuted. Because it, or something similar, may well come over here. Black activists are worried about Black schoolchildren’s underperformance in maths. It’s why, when I still got on with the Black and Asian Studies Association they asked me if I knew anything about Black mathematics. I didn’t, but sent them material on medieval Muslim mathematicians – Persian and Arab – for which they expressed their thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me if a group in Britain was demanding a similar approach in British schools following Black Lives Matter.

Here’s the video:

There have been other attempts to create a maths syllabus that would engage and inspire Black American pupils with controversial results. Back in the 1990s Private Eye’s ‘Funny Old World’ column carried a piece about the anger that had been sparked by one American school’s or schoolboard’s attempts to appeal to its Black students. It attempted to do so by framing maths problems in the setting of Black urban gangsta culture. One of the problems set featured two gangsters, Lucius and Rufus. They had guns that had different rates of fire and held clips of different numbers of bullets. The question was on how many times these gangsters would have to fire their weapons before they had to change the guns’ clips. The schoolboard attempted to justify this and and similar questions by claiming that it reflected the home environment of their students, and they were just trying to engage them through using it. But naturally, this horrifies everyone, Black and White, who doesn’t want violent criminals to be glamourised, or feels that Black children should be inspired to identify and aim for something better. There is a caveat to this story. Some of the items in the column are, shall we say, far-fetched and others have been shown to be urban legends, so it’s quite possible that the story’s fake and was made up as a spoof or joke. But looking at the blatant bias in Seattle’s maths syllabus, as bonkers as it is, it could also be true.

I’ve suggested before in a previous video that if educators really want to inspire Black children in maths, they could teach them about some of the maths problems studied by the ancient Egyptians, or failing that, the kind of maths problems they studied, as some of the formulae the Egyptians used aren’t accurate. They might also teach them the type of maths problems studied and taught in the schools of the great Islamic civilisations in north Africa. That would clearly be better than telling them that Whites have appropriated maths to oppress Blacks and other non-White peoples.

There is clearly a viciously anti-White racism in some of the academic doctrines and approaches now being advocated and taught as pro-Black. Critical Race Theory is another one, as it teaches that all White people are racist and any institutions they set up will automatically oppress non-Whites. Trump passed an executive order last week banning its teaching in federal government. services, including the police. But Trump is himself determined to indoctrinate children with his attack on anything he considers to be liberal propaganda being taught as part of history. He has just launched the 1776 Initiative, which aims to make American history teaching even more patriotic.

Such indoctrination, whether coming from the left or right has no place in schools. Children need to be taught objective facts, both in maths and history, and encouraged to make up their own minds about race, country and politics.

A Treasury of Ancient Mathematical Texts

February 4, 2017

Henrietta Midonick, The Treasure of Mathematics: 1 (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1968)


I realise that the history of mathematics is an arcane subject, that few people will have much interest in, having struggled enough with the subject at school. But with Black History Month, there is immense interest amongst scholars of Black and Asian history about restoring Black and Asian scientists and mathematicians to their rightful place in history.

I picked up this book in one of the secondhand bookshops in Cheltenham about a year or so ago. It’s a collection of ancient and medieval mathematical texts from Ancient Egypt, Babylon, China, India, Islam, the Jews and, of course, the ancient Greeks. The blurb for it runs

Mathematics is the only true international language. men can communicate more directly, precisely and logically in pure mathematics than in any other tongue. Moreover we have much to learn from the achievements of past civilizations in this field: even modern computers have not fathomed all the intricacies of Stonehenge. In this fascinating collection of original sources (many of them published in a popular edition for the first time) Henrietta Midonick shows individual mathematicians grappling with varied problems – some practical, such as architecture, money valuation, mechanics, astronomy and calendar calculation; others verging on philosophy, such as the existence of zero and the concept of infinity. Her arrangement also demonstrates the growth of key ideas in geometry, arithmetic, logic and calculus.

Volume 1 documents the growth of mathematical science in the civilizations of Babylon, Ancient Egypt, the Mayas, India and China, and assesses the revolutionary discoveries of Plato, Archimedes and Euclid in classical antiquity.

Among the various extracts are pieces on Babylonian mathematics; four geometrical problems from the Moscow Papyrus, which dates from Ancient Egypt, c. 1850 BC; the Rhind Mathematical Papyrus, again from Egypt, c. 1650 BC; the Bakhshali Manuscript, from 4th century AD India; the Mayas – discussing their system of numbers, the calendar, arithmetic and chronology, and the Quipu, the method of keeping statistical records using knots, used by the ancient Incas in South America.

Chinese mathematicians include Wan Wang, from the 12th century BC, Chou Kung, c. 1100 BC; Chang Tsang, died 152; Liu Hui, 3rd century AD; Sun-Tsu, from the same century; Hsia-Hou Yang, 6th century AD; Wang Hs’iao-T’ung, 7th century AD, Li Yeh, c. AD 1178-1265; Ch’in Chiu-Shao, c. AD 1250; Yang Hui, c. AD 1275; Chu Chi-Chieh, c. AD 1300.

The Indian scholars collected include Aryabhata the Elder, c. AD. 476; Brahmagupta, AD 598; and Bhascara Acharya, AD 1114-c. 1185.

It also includes the Algebra of Mohammed ben Musa al-Khowarismi, who founded much of modern algebra, including giving it its modern name.

The two Jewish mathematicians collected include the Mishnat ha-Middot of Rabbi Nehemiah, from c. AD 150; and the Method of Division of Immanuel Ben Jacob Bonfils, c. AD 1350.

The ancient Greeks include Hippocrates of Chios, 5th century BC; an extract from Plato’s Dialogues; the Elements of Euclid of Alexandria, c. 300 BC; Apollonius of Perga’s Conic Sections, from the same period; Archimedes’ On Spirals, Mechanical Problems, and Quadrature of the Parabola, Pappus, c. AD 300, and Proclus, AD 410-485.


Ancient Babylonian Multiplication Table for X 10.

For the non-mathematician like myself these texts aren’t easy reading. There are diagrams to help, but many of them, as the pioneering works of their time, are trying to express difficult mathematical ideas without the modern language of Maths, and so it can be difficult understanding what they are trying to describe. Nevertheless, this is an important collection of some of the classic texts of ancient mathematics on which the structure of modern maths has been built.

Ecotricity and Solar Power in the 19th Century

April 7, 2015

Pifre Steam Press

Abel Pifre’s Solar-Powered Printing Press

Yesterday I reblogged a fascinating piece from Tom Pride’s site. Tom had posted up a little video of an interview with the chief of Ecotricity, explaining why he had donated money to and was backing Labour. The CEO stated that while he had his reservations about Labour, he thought they were the best party to promote green energy. He felt that a second term of the Tories would be disastrous for this country.

He mentioned the great benefits of renewable power, It’s decentralised nature meant that a potential failure in one of the stations would certainly be as catastrophic as the failure of a nuclear power station. Furthermore, people were able to generate green energy at home. You can see this in practice today with the number of ordinary houses with solar panels on the roof.

The potential of sunlight as a source of power has been known since the ancient world, when Archimedes in the 3rd Century BC sank an invading Roman fleet off Sicily by getting the Greek soldiers to concentrate the sunlight reflected from their bronze shields on the approaching ships.

Over 2000 years later, in 1882 the French engineer, Abel Pifre, demonstrated the ability of solar power to drive modern industrial machinery in an experiment at the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. He set up a concave mirror, 3 1/2 metres in diameter. In the centre of the mirror was a boiler with a valve. This operated a small motor, running at 3/5 horsepower. This drove a Marinoni press, which printed off a copy of a newspaper, which Pifre had written himself, the Sun-Newspaper.

The device operated from one O’clock to half past five, printing off the newspapers as the rate of 500 copies an hour.

The solar press was ingenious, and demonstrated the immense potential of the technology. It doesn’t seem to have been taken up because it was uneconomical compared to coal and later the petrochemical industries. Despite this, such machines clearly have massive potential and may at last come into their own as the world tries to move away from fossil fuels because of the harm they do to the environment.

And fans of Steampunk literature can always have fun imagining what might have happened, if the Victorians not only built Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, but also had the eminent good sense to power it and their cities with solar power.