Since 2009, weapons manufacturer Raytheon has sponsored the MATHCOUNTS National Championship, a children’s competition for extraordinary young mathletes, according to a January 2020 article written by Grafton Tanner for The Nation. Unlike the Scripps National Spelling Bee, which often wins the country’s attention, MATHCOUNTS is comparatively less glamorous. Its most recent tournament, which hosted more than fifty sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders and their respective coaches, was held in Orlando, Florida in May of 2019. Daniel Mai, a thirteen-year-old whiz kid from Massachusetts, solved his final problem in under thirty seconds and was crowned that year’s champion.
Raytheon’s involvement in this organization began as part of it initiative, MathMovesU, to provide young people interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) with the tools to succeed in their chosen fields. But before that, in the early 2000s, Raytheon was sponsoring hopeful high schoolers in robotic competitions, supporting young engineering talent. According to the Washington Post, in 2010, the company rolled out its “U.S. STEM Education Model” in response to President Obama’s ‘Change The Equation’, a non-profit initiative devoted to improving the quality of STEM education in public institutions. Raytheon promised “each state its own educational model that would influence how policy-makers shape public education at the state level.” The pattern is that the multinational company strives to forge a path for all young innovators, spearheading projects like its “Think Like a Programmer” Girl Scout program, which allows girls to explore the abundant world of AI and cybersecurity. Raytheon’s mission to reach young audiences extends outside of the US through its MathAlive! program, which visit places like Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia—to which Raytheon has sold surface-to-air missile systems, known as Patriots, in recent years.
In 2017, Nasdaq reported Raytheon made over $300 million on a deal to grow Saudi Arabia’s defense. But as the country’s presence in Yemen’s civil war increases, ethical concerns arise. According to a report by Al Jazeera in September 2019, a Saudi-led air raid in Yemen resulted in the deaths of six civilians, three of whom were children. The weapons used to carry out the attack were made and sold to the Saudis by Raytheon. Rasha Mohamed, Amnesty International’s Yemen researcher, told Al Jazeera that the US “continues to feed the conveyor belt of arms flowing into Yemen’s devastating conflict.”
In February 2019, Raytheon attended career fairs at MIT, Northeastern, Tufts, and Boston University, where it was met with active protests on behalf of the Yemeni people and their rights by students, professors, and the Coalition to Stop Genocide in Yemen, according to Tufts Daily.
The coverage of the MATHCOUNTS championship by the corporate news media, since Raytheon became its primary sponsor, has neglected to discuss the ethical issues of a US defense contractor funding STEM competition for children. Raytheon’s motives are suspect, especially when considering that the “STEM gap” that they’ve enthusiastically tried to combat doesn’t exist: According to IEEE Spectrum, more students are now graduating with STEM degrees than the job market can handle. When Raytheon says its hopes to invigorate young minds to pursue STEM, what it means is that it is scouting for promising employees who may one day help it produce weapons of war.
The New York Times wrote a whimsical article titled, “Math Champion Wins With Answer About Pecking Chicks,” about 2017’s winner, thirteen-year-old Texan, Luke Robitaille. Other stories written by local newspapers, including the Chicago Daily Herald or Bismarck Tribune, narrowly focus on the brilliant kids that are advancing to the next round, but fail to mention the company that is simultaneously funding the MATHCOUNTS experience and drone strikes on innocent people in war-torn nations.
Grafton Tanner, “Why Raytheon Sponsors Math Contests For Kids,” The Nation, January 15, 2020, https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/raytheon-mathcounts-stem-defense/.
Alexander Thompson, “Defense Contractor Raytheon Comes to Career Fair, Protestors Follow,” Tufts Daily, February 11, 2019, https://tuftsdaily.com/news/2019/02/11/defense-contractor-raytheon-comes-career-fair-protesters-follow/.
Student Researcher: Shealeigh Voitl (North Central College)
Faculty Evaluator: Steve Macek (North Central College)