“If Frederick got two beatings per day…”

January 13th, 2012
Next week's assignment: algebra and the Holocaust

The answer is: "Are you insane?"

Teachers at an elementary school in Georgia are in hot water after assigning third-grade students math problems about slavery for homework.

An example math problem from the homework read: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” Another question stated: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

In a surprise to exactly nobody, parents were outraged when they discovered the assignment.

A school district spokesperson said that teachers were simply trying to create a “cross-curricular activity, in which social studies topics would be woven into math assignments”. She added that the school district agrees that the questions were “not appropriate”. Administration at the elementary school are working on a process to review homework assignments before they’re handed to students.

Many parents and the Georgia NAACP are now calling for the termination of the involved teachers over the incident.

Ok, let’s get the obvious out of the way: the whole math/slavery homework crossover idea? Clearly idiotic, and the teacher that came up with it ought to be slapped. It sounds like the other teachers that distributed the homework mostly didn’t even bother to look at it first, which falls into an entirely different category of fail.

However, is the teacher that wrote the questions a racist, as the involvement of the NAACP implies?

Looking up Beaver Ridge Elementary on schooldigger.com shows that the area is quite racially diverse, with African Americans making up the majority of the local population. The school has so far withheld details of the teachers’ identities, but it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the majority of the involved educators were actually black. Would people be so quick to jump on the race card bandwagon if the teacher that wrote the homework assignment turned out to be African American?

It’s far more likely that the teacher who penned the assignment was simply not thinking, and didn’t realize the impact that their clever math & slavery homework hybrid would have. If you think about the issue from the perspective of a teacher that is under pressure to create an assignment that incorporates both math and the current social studies issue — which unfortunately happens to be slavery — it is a lot easier to imagine how something like this might happen. I’m not saying that the teacher had an impossible task, simply that whoever wrote the questions was probably mindlessly tying slavery issues to arithmetic problems without giving any consideration to political correctness. Simply including questions about slaves escaping instead of being beaten probably would have been enough to avoid most of the outrage.

Assuming that this person is an otherwise good teacher, what’s wrong with a simple apology? An idiotic — but likely honest — mistake was made in releasing an insensitively-worded homework assignment. Put down your pitchforks and let it go, people.

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