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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