Multiplying and trivializing slavery

Integrating history and math, getting students to write math problems . . . It must have sounded like a good idea at the time. Now a fourth-grade teacher at New York City’s P.S. 59 is in hot water for  assigning “slavery word problems homework,” reports NY1.

Question 1 . . . asked:

“In a slave ship, there can be 3,799 slaves. One day, the slaves took over the ship. 1,897 are dead. How many slaves are alive?”

The second question . . .  said:

“One slave got whipped five times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month (31 days)? Another slave got whipped nine times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month? How many times did the two slaves get whipped together in one month?”

Aziza Harding, a student teacher, showed the homework to Charlton McIlwain, one of her professors at NYU. The professor contacted NY1, which showed the worksheet to the principal of P.S. 59, who responded: “I am appalled by this.”

Another fourth-grade teacher’s students wrote the questions in January.

“You’re ostensibly teaching or trying to teach history or call attention to a particular historical moment, yet there’s no explanation, there’s no education, there’s no teaching going on,” McIlwain said. “And so, for someone who is probably, at nine years of age, has maybe heard of slavery but probably doesn’t know what it is really like, their first, perhaps, and most lasting impression about this historical event comes in a very abstracted, nonchalant type of thing that they have no real sense of connection to.

Harding, the student teacher, fears students will be “desensitized to this type of violence” unless they’re taught to understand the history of slavery.


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  1. Process question for the professor. When one of your student teachers discovers a disturbing thing, is your first call to the principal or the media?

  2. This is nothing more than the result of the mind-numbing focus on interdisciplinary and real-world problems in current pedagogy.

  3. Why aren’t there more teachers in jail these days??? This is clearly criminal in nature!

    • If they put people in jail just for simply doing something stupid, we’d ALL be in jail. And this was certainly something stupid; though I doubt even then it was done in malice. Just someone who didn’t put 2 & 2 together and think things through… But, you know they will next time!