Parents of the students at Beaver Ridge Elementary Schools were upset to find, in their children's math assignment, that there were word problems that used slavery and violence as examples. News sources were quick to identify that the problem was not the topics in itself, but the way it was presented - without historical context and without additional guidance.
Here are some sample questions so you get a sense of what we're talking about here:
"If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?"
"Each tree had 56 oranges. If 8 slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?"
School board district spokesperson Sloan Roach admitted that the questions were "inappropriate" and that more stringent measures will be used to ensure that lessons will, from now on, be more appropriate. However, she also explained that the teachers meant no harm, as their main aim was to incorporate social studies lesson in math problems for a "cross-curricular activity".
If that's the case, what kind of 'social studies lesson' were they trying to teach?
Sloan continues to say that "this [was] simply a case of creating a bad question." She's right; those are terrible questions. But the consequences of these bad questions reach far beyond the likes of "Joan has 5 piles of manure. She ate 2 of them. How many does she have left?"
Unfortunately, just because something was done without ill intention certainly doesn't make it immune from being completely insensitive and hurtful.
By presenting violence and slavery without examination, the teacher(s) behind this math assignment are saying that it's okay to conceptualize these topics casually and dismissively. And it's often the inconsideration and nonchalance when dealing with issues of difference, like taking certain words and concepts all too casually, that creates the space for intolerance.
Ada Lee is a sixth year Human Geography/International Relations student who is interested in people and what makes them tick. The list ranges from social justice to astrology. She tries to get by in life by getting high on ideas, breathing deeply, and dreaming vividly. Follow 0415ADA at your own risk.