Skip to content

Math Doesn’t Discriminate

April 22, 2015

This post will read like a Quentin Tarantino film script with a number of bizarre storylines, but it comes together in the end. Sort of.

Start with a scene in which Mike Mulgrew is speaking to a large group of education advocates. He’s whipping them up. He cursing Cuomo. This is happening now.  Then cut to a sepia-toned flashback. It’s Mulgrew meeting with Cuomo four years ago at the Executive Mansion.  They are having a drink. Cuomo is saying to Mulgrew that he wants to move “in direction of reform,” but he needs to know the extent of the pushback he’ll face.

Mulgrew, wowed by Cuomo, totally forgets the teachers he represents. He tells Cuomo that Randi Weingarten is distracted.  He tells him about NYSUT’s internal divisions.

Cuomo nods and says: “That’s good, but what about this crazy Billy Easton guy?”

And Mulgrew says: “Don’t worry about him.”

Fade to black before starting the next vignette:  Enter Mr. Z, a 12th grade math teacher in a public high school in the early 80s.  Military bearing, but he’s socially awkward. Shy almost. Standing in front of the blackboard, he’s old, but something about the look in his eye indicates that he was old even when he was young.

His calculus class is unruly. Nobody is listening to him except one female student in the front row. In a subtle bit of foreshadowing, we only see her hands taking notes.

Mr. Z gets frustrated with the inattention, and raises his voice. He never raises his voice, so when he does now everyone in the class is suddenly silent. What follows is a Christopher Walken-like dramatic monologue:

“I’m telling you something. I’m telling you that it’s beautiful. It’s pure. It’s doesn’t take sides or discriminate. It’s never unfair or unreasonable. All it asks is that you make the effort to understand it. If you do that, the Calculus will never disappoint you, never betray you.  It’s the only constant in a crazy world. It’s…”

As he’s saying this, he experiences an intense flashback. He’s a young naval officer on a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam. A North Korean pilot in a Russian MIG is approaching his ship. Ensign Z commands an anti-aircraft missile battery and his superior officer is screaming at him: “Engage. Engage!” But this is his first time in combat, and he’s paralyzed with fear. He can’t move his arms, can’t use his voice.

He snaps out of it just in time to fire a missile that blows the wing off of the approaching MIG. As the plane spirals out of control, the North Korean pilot is seen kissing a small picture of his wife and baby girl. Then the plane crashes.

Now it’s 16 years later – the baby girl is a teenager. She’s beautiful. It turns out that she’s the student in the front row of Mr. Z’s class. She’s the one taking notes on everything he says. Her notes are in Korean.  She’s his best student. On standardized tests, her verbal scores barely qualify for advanced study, but her math scores are perfect.

She goes on to college and becomes Dr. Jung Sun Song, both a medical doctor and a PhD in education with a concentration in development studies. She becomes the head of a national non-profit organization dedicated to advancing the charter school movement. She’s a controversial figure whom the education advocates think is a charlatan, but she has equally staunch supporters on the other side, including leaders of the African American community in New York City who believe she’s a visionary.

In sharp scene break, we suddenly see Mulgrew run into Dr. Song in the hallway outside a legislative hearing on student testing in Albany. All around them, there are protesters led by Billy Easton. It’s a raucous scene, but, suddenly, neither Mulgrew nor Dr. Song can see or hear the protestors or anyone else. They only see and hear each other — for its love at first sight.

In the denouement of this film, a narrator’s voice explains that in the days that followed this chance meeting, Mulgrew, Dr. Song and Governor Cuomo came up with a brilliant compromise to resolve the education testing controversy. Under this compromise, standardized tests on verbal abilities are dramatically altered to address the concerns of parents and advocates, but the standardized tests on math are preserved because math – it’s not unfair, it doesn’t discriminate. There’s simply no cultural bias in numbers.

The final scene is a packed news conference in the Red Room at the capitol. Dr. Song is speaking. On one side of her is Mulgrew; on the other Cuomo. She begins her remarks by saying: “This day was made possible by Mr. Z…”

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: