Home > Essays > TQM, Non-Euclidean Geometry COULD Lead to a Productive Dialogue on Race… But ONLY if Fox News and the GOP Want it to Happen

TQM, Non-Euclidean Geometry COULD Lead to a Productive Dialogue on Race… But ONLY if Fox News and the GOP Want it to Happen

July 5, 2021

Reading Ross Douthat’s recent NYTimes op ed column brought to mind two mental constructs that might prove useful in the ongoing discussion about race: TQM and Non-Euclidean geometry. 

As readers of this blog might realize, I have long been an advocate of using Total Quality Management (TQM) as a means of viewing the problems of public education. The phrase “people don’t fail, systems fail” captures the concept behind TQM which was initially described by management theorist C. Edwards Deming. Deming believed that instead of blaming individuals or groups of individuals for the problems in an organization, executives should first examine the structure of the organization— the “system”— for flaws. Invariably the problems an organization encountered were NOT the result of human errors or incompetence but rather the way the system itself was put together. 

I have also included posts on a speech I often gave on non-Euclidean geometry, a topic I was exposed to as a college senior when I took a course on this subject in order to get certified as a math teacher. Unlike traditional Euclidean geometry where two points define a line, non-Euclidean geometry begins with the premise that two points define a curve because a straight line cannot exist on an earth that has a curved surface. When the fundamental premise of geometry is changed, every postulate and corollary changes as well. 

These concepts came to mind when I read these paragraphs in Douthat’s column: 

…I want to start with what the new progressivism is interested in changing. One change involves increasingly familiar terms like “structural” and “systemic” racism, and the attempt to teach about race in a way that emphasizes not just explicitly racist laws and attitudes, but also how America’s racist past still influences inequalities today.

In theory, this shift is supposed to enable debates that avoid using “racist” as a personal accusation — since the point is that a culture can sustain persistent racial inequalities even if most white people aren’t bigoted or biased.

In reading Douthat’s construct, I am generally aligned with what he calls “new progressivism” inasmuch as I believe our social studies courses should focus more on the “structures and systems” and less on a narrative that makes our nation’s history an unqualified advancement toward enlightenment. Over time we HAVE improved the systems we had in place at our nation’s founding. We eliminated a wholly disgusting institution— slavery— and eliminated other clearly inequitable and disreputable elements of our system. We replaced child labor with universal schooling. We gave women the opportunity to vote. We have also acknowledged that recent elements of our system are unacceptable: redlining, segregation, and “separate but equal” access to public facilities. 

But in order to generate trust in our system, we need to find a way to offset the adverse effects of system failures in the past. We need to find a way to provide the generation raised in redlined school districts with opportunities that are equal to those raised in the affluent suburbs. We need to find a way to move at a faster pace to eliminate the segregation that was supposedly going to be eliminated as a result of Brown v. Board of Education. 

Which brings me to non-Euclidean geometry and the extreme difficulty we face in changing our thinking patterns as opposed to changing our SYSTEMS. It is relatively easy to change a “system” which is clearly a man-made intellectual construct. It is much more difficult to change a fundamental premise like “two-points-define-a-line” and the postulates and corollaries that follow.  We can all recite the words in the Declaration of Independence that declare that “All Men Are Created Equal”. It is much harder to make that operational when we cannot get our minds and hearts around that premise… and harder still when we hear repeated messages to the contrary. If viewers of Fox News are repeatedly told that “the system is fair” and in no need of change, if they are repeatedly told that those trying to make the system better are racist themselves, and ESPECIALLY if that is their only source of information, it is no surprise that it is impossible to have the dialogue Douthat would like to have.  

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