A California teacher refuses to teach proper grammar because she claims it upholds white supremacy.
“Public education is an institution that upholds lots of problematic systems in our society like white supremacy and misogyny and colonization,” says Marta Shaffer, an English teacher at Oroville High School, in a TikTok video.
She also says white supremacy “runs deep” in English curriculum, referencing grammar conventions like starting essays with an introduction and thesis, citing sources and using transition words.
“I try to undermine that B.S. in my classroom as much as I possibly can,” Shaffer concludes. “These are all made up rules. They’re arbitrary. They were created by Westerners in power.”
Unsurprisingly, Shaffer’s TikTok garnered criticism.
“It will never occur to her how racist it is to believe that using proper grammar is too difficult for people of color,” one critic said.
However, Shaffer isn’t the only educator who sees systematic injustice at every turn.
Dismantling Racism in Mathematics Instruction, an educator workbook released in 2021, encourages teachers to combat white supremacy in math.
The workbook says that characteristics of white supremacy include perfectionism, defensiveness, paternalism, either/or thinking, fear of open conflict, power hoarding, individualism and objectivity.
Classroom examples of white supremacy include putting students on different tracks based on ability, only teaching to content standards, grading skills-based knowledge, requiring students to show their work in prescribed ways, and valuing individual work over group work.
Even telling students there is only one right answer is supposedly racist.
“Upholding the idea that there are always right and wrong answers perpetuate objectivity as well as fear of open conflict,” says the workbook. “Some math problems may have more than one right answer and some may not have a solution at all, depending on the content and the context.”
Rochelle Gutierrez, a professor at the University of Illinois, even takes offense at mathematical terminology.
“Terms like Pythagorean theorem and pi perpetuate a perception that mathematics was largely developed by Greeks and other Europeans,” Gutierrez said.
If basic grammar and math aren’t safe from alleged white supremacy, higher education certainly isn’t either.
Metropolitan State University of Denver’s Writing Center doesn’t endorse the use of Standard American English (SAE), the version of English expected in professional and educational settings.
It claims SAE assumes there are standard ways of writing and speaking that don’t exist and upholds white privilege and racial hierarchies.
The Writing Center discourages writing prompts that make “Anglocentric assumptions,” presume familiarity with American culture, or use the names of places and countries that students might object to because of their culture.
It also discourages writing prompts such as, “Write about the Biggest Obstacle You’ve Overcome in Life,” because some students “may be refugees from war-torn countries.”
There is injustice in the classroom, but not the injustice Marta Shaffer and those like her claim there is.
The real injustice is done to students whose teachers spend more time railing against so-called oppressive systems than teaching their students the basic life skills they need to succeed.