Math is obviously an important skill for elementary students to learn, and we support creative methods for teaching what, for some, is a boring subject. But, as we noted last year, there are much better ways to teach math than by using word problems about slavery. Alas, a fourth grade teacher at Manhattan's P.S. 59 failed to heed our warning and thought it would be a good idea to distribute a worksheet titled "Slavery Word Problems Homework," which included questions such as:
"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?"
"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 asked to make copies of the assignment, was shocked when she read the worksheet. "I'm just like, 'Wow, this is really inappropriate,'" she told NY1. "It shouldn't be a homework assignment, and I did not want to make copies of this."
So she didn't. The teacher was in a meeting, so Harding made the reasonable decision to distribute another worksheet instead. She later told her professor at NYU about the incident. He then contacted the NY1, which showed the sheet to the school's principal. The principal told NY1's reporter she was "appalled" and that she'd meet with families and staff members to discuss the incident. The Department of Education quickly apologized as well, saying in a statement, "This is obviously unacceptable and we will take appropriate disciplinary action against these teachers."
But the most bizarre part of the story isn't the obviously offensive questions; it's that the questions were actually written by another fourth grade class at P.S. 59 as part of their history project about slavery, meaning at least two veteran teachers at the school thought the assignment was a good idea.