NEW YORK—A Manhattan school is facing questions over a fourth-grade homework assignment that included killing and whipping slaves in order to teach mathematics.
“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?” reads one of the questions handed out at Public School 59, a copy of which was obtained by NY1. Another question asked a math question about a slave that “got whipped five times a day,” and wondered how many times he got “whipped in a month.”
Principal Adele Schroeter told the New York Daily news that she was “appalled,” ordering all teaching staff take sensitivity training.
Officials said that the questions were part of a program that blended math with social studies issues.
While some parents were shocked, one anonymous parent said, “I don’t think that’s reflective at all of what the school is about.”
Aziza Harding, one of the student teachers asked to photocopy the work, told NY1 that when she discovered the slavery-related questions on the worksheet, she refused to photocopy it.
“It shouldn’t be a homework assignment, and I did not want to make copies of this,” Harding told the station.
She ultimately went to Charlton McIlwain, associate professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University.
“My first thought was, I don’t believe it,” he said when he contacted NY1 about it.
“You’re ostensibly teaching or trying to teach history or call attention to a particular historical moment, yet there’s no explanation, there’s no education, there’s no teaching going on,” McIlwain said.
He added, “And so, for someone who is probably, at nine years of age, has maybe heard of slavery but probably doesn’t know what it is really like, their first, perhaps, and most lasting impression about this historical event comes in a very abstracted, nonchalant type of thing that they have no real sense of connection to.”
The New York City Department of Education stated that it will implement disciplinary action against the teachers who used the problem.
“This is obviously unacceptable and we will take appropriate disciplinary action against these teachers,” a DOE spokeswoman told the New York Post. “The Chancellor spoke to the principal, and she has already taken steps to ensure this does not happen again.”
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