By Victor Skinner
NEW YORK – New York City parents are outraged after a student teacher blew the whistle on an inappropriate fourth grade math assignment centered on questions about the slave trade.
“In a slave ship, there are 3,799 slaves. One day, the slaves took over the ship. 1,897 slaves are dead. How many slaves are alive?” read one of the questions in the Manhattan elementary school assignment, according to NY1 television station.
“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?” read another question.
This is obviously an outgrowth of the current fad amongst K-12 teachers to incorporate “social justice’ lessons into students’ daily assignments, regardless of the subjects they teach. This attempt to meet that standard was done awkwardly, to say the least.
Parents interviewed for the television news report expressed horror at the wording of the lesson.
“It’s a little graphically written, I would say. Quite graphically written, especially number 2,” parent Kristen Markoplis told NY1.
“There’s already racism still going on, and with it being Black History Month and hatred and stuff like that, it’s teaching them at a young age,” another parent said.
Aziza Harding, a student teacher at the school, was asked to make copies of the slave assignment but instead contacted NY1 and her professor at New York University, Charlton McIlwain.
“It completely trivializes the historical significance, pain and violence of slavery. By extracting that experience into math problems, students role play being slave traders. It’s part of a much larger story and you can’t get that in a math assignment,” McIlwain told NY1.
NYC Department of Education officials said the questions originated from students who were studying the history of slavery and were asked in their math class to craft problems on the topic, NY1 reports.
“This is obviously unacceptable and we will take appropriate disciplinary action against these teachers,” said NYC Department of Education spokeswoman Connie Pankratz. “The chancellor spoke to the principal, and she has already taken steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
School principal Adele Schroeter told the television station she’s met with the teacher and scheduled training for her staff about the issue.
A state senator has called for the termination of the teachers involved with the homework assignment, while others believe the situation could be used as a learning experience.
“I would be better to have these teachers go through some kind of productive discipline where they can talk with parents, with students, with the community, about why this is offensive and why the topic is important,” McIlwain told NY1.