Insensitive assignment raises uproar

There are various periods throughout history that some school teachers are afraid to explore, due to their sensitive nature. This was not the case for third grade math teachers at Beaver Ridge Elementary School in Norcross, Ga., where a worksheet containing controversial math questions caused an uproar at both local and national levels.

Concerned parents spoke with district officials after their children brought home math questions that read with such racial insensitivity as, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” and "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?" Another question asked how many pounds of cotton “Frederick” was carrying in his baskets.

One parent said that explaining these questions to his child was painful, and felt that the assignment was unacceptable for students at any level. Another parent did not even allow his child to complete the homework assignment.

According to The Huffington Post, District spokeswoman Sloan Roach said that teachers were only trying to incorporate social studies lessons into the math problems. Roach, however, agrees that the questions were not in good taste.

The school did not review the controversial math worksheet before it was distributed amongst the students.

While teachers may want to incorporate social studies into a math lesson, this is surely not the most effective way. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the teachers wanted their students to learn about war, or crime. Would it be acceptable to create a question that asks how many bombs a country might drop in an hour, or how many murders took place in a certain neighborhood during a single evening?

Why is it even necessary to include a history lesson in a math problem, especially when there is no context given?

Of course, history is important for elementary students, even the history of mathematical theory would be relevant.

But perhaps the two subjects shouldn’t be “combined,” if there is no substantial information to be gained by the students.

Beaver Ridge principal, Jose DeJesus, issued an apology on the school’s website and collected the assignment in hopes that the questions would not resurface. He made it a point to mention that the teachers “embrace diversity, and care for their students.”  Eighty-six percent of the students at Beaver Ridge are minorities.

The principal is also working with the district’s Human Resources department as they complete their investigation. No immediate action has been taken in regard to the teacher who wrote the controversial questions and whether or not the district is taking the appropriate actions is up for debate.

Some parents believe that the teachers and district officials should be required to take diversity training.

No matter what action is taken at Beaver Ridge in the following weeks, hopefully no more math questions like this resurface and teachers will think twice before they unwittingly mix and match course subjects.

 

Reach the columnist at agales@asu.edu

 

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