Prejudiced 'math' fails to add up

20th January 2012 at 00:00

Counting apples and oranges is a time-honoured way to teach maths to eight-year-olds. But when their children came home with maths homework asking them to count how many oranges a slave had picked, parents at a primary school in Georgia were outraged.

Another of the questions on the worksheet featuring the daily trials of Frederick Douglass, an African-American slave, was: "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week? Two weeks?"

The principal of Beaver Ridge Elementary school told one parent the assignment was part of a cross-curricular effort to weave social studies and history into maths lessons. But dozens of parents complained that the maths questions trivialised the history of slavery.

Terrance Barnett, a parent of a third-grader at the school, told a television station in Atlanta: "I'm having to explain to my eight-year-old why slavery or slaves or beatings are in a math problem. That hurts."

A spokeswoman for the school district authorities has admitted that this particular assignment was not "appropriate".

Ed DuBose, state president of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), said there was no situation in which a teacher should have developed questions that were "that inflammatory".

"Our position is that teacher and the teachers who distributed the questions should be fired. Five teachers made the right decision not to distribute them," he said.

But the Georgia Association of Educators said that although the teachers involved may have used poor judgment, it should not lead to the termination of their employment.

Last year, a teacher in Virginia was disciplined after she staged a slave auction in the classroom to teach nine-year-olds about the American Civil War. The parents of African-American pupils besieged Sewell Point Elementary with complaints after learning that Jessica Boyle had separated her class on racial lines to stage the mock auction, with white students bidding to buy their black and mixed-race classmates.

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