Do The Math

“If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week? two weeks?”

Raise your hand if you think this is an appropriate question for third graders. Raise your hand if you think this is an appropriate question for ANY school children. Well apparently teachers in a Gwinnett County, GA elementary school thought it and a suite of questions like it were perfectly acceptable math questions for their third grade classroom. Apparently inspired by a social studies lesson on Frederick Douglass, a math assignment including questions about slaves picking oranges and cotton was distributed to 100 third graders in Beaver Ridge Elementary School. You’ve probably seen the internets buzzing about it.

"Beat me one more time, motherfucker"

Innocent or actually racist? Well to be fair, one of the teachers involved was Hispanic, and most of the kids that did  the lesson were Hispanic. But even if you buy the “innocent mistake” argument being put forward by those defending the teachers, it begs the question: what the fuck were they thinking and how are these the people we let teach our kids?  Regardless of the racial undertones, what competent teacher decides to involve questions about brutal violence and the buying and selling of other people to kids who just learned handwriting? Honestly someone should look into the social studies curriculum if the story taught to them about Frederick Douglass was so focused on how many beatings he received as a slave. Even if taken at the most innocent, justifiable defense as given by the teachers and their lawyers, the questions in themselves, even devoid of racial context are well beyond the full comprehension of the kids and a large enough indicator of incompetence on behalf of the teachers to demand some employment status changes. What the hell kind of teachers are in our classrooms that they think a math lesson on beating people is appropriate at all? Where is the curriculum control?

I miss the good old days....

Also, on the other hand, you can’t just simply wave away the racism part either. If you want to include a lesson about race and slavery, you have to include a certain racial and cultural sensitivity, or else you risk racism by simple indifference or lack of due diligence. Intellectual laziness is no reason to disregard something as not being racist, and cultural sensitivity is a duty for all those who claim that they aren’t racist. If you think third grade math problems about the enslavement of and brutality towards Blacks would fall into the scope of acceptability, then you’ve already failed. Especially in a mostly minority class, especially in a district that wasn’t integrated until the 60s, with children whose parents still face relatively fresh wounds of discrimination.

To me there’s no real defense here to not fire the teachers. If it was rooted in active racism and insensitivity, it should result in firing. If the defense that the teachers used was true, that they were simply trying to make a cross-curricular connection and didn’t get the racial issues, then they should be fired too. No teacher that clueless and stupid should be allowed to teach…especially with children who are at such a critical and impressionable age. It’s the same argument I used against teachers who simulated slavery in class activities. We’ve really got to nip this thing in the bud, as well as end this stupid “I didn’t know” argument. It’s your duty to know. Let’s not let things get out of hand…


…that’s not real by the way

2 Responses to “Do The Math”
  1. Brittney says:

    This all depends on the AIM of the lesson. I the lesson was intended to be interdisciplinary and highlight the realities of slavery, then yes it’s ok. The assumption is that the teacher was celebrating violence when in fact, they could have simply analyzing it. Emotions are connected to memory, and those kids probably learned something about multiplication in word problems that day. Job well done.

    I am a special education teacher in the South Bronx, by the way.

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