NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Parents said they are upset and disgusted by a math homework assignment that used scenarios about killing and whipping slaves.
A teacher at P.S. 59 in Manhattan asked fourth graders to write creative arithmetic problems. The students were learning about slavery in history class and they came up with slave-related math problems, CBS 2’s Weijia Jiang reported.
The teacher, Jan Youn, approved and assigned the questions as homework, Jiang reported.
One question asked: 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?
Another question read: One slave got whipped five times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month (31 days)?
“Essentially what’s being asked is for students to play the role of a slave trader,” said New York University professor Charlton Mcllwain.
Parents of students at the school CBS 2’s Jessica Schneider the lesson was inappropriate and offensive.
“I don’t understand how teachers aren’t aware that would be offensive. Why aren’t they aware? Why aren’t they in touch? Why aren’t they concerned with these issues of minorities in America nowadays?” parent Tim Tate said. “It’s a little unnerving, a little unsettling.”
“In this day and age when everybody is so sensitive, when everybody is so politically correct, it’s probably not the best thing to do,” one father said.
“I don’t understand why they would even say that to kids, it’s sending the wrong message,” another father said.
However, one mother said she helped her son with the homework and is defending the teacher.
“It’s only a math problem,” Jenny Mui said. “It is history, and this did happen, so I don’t understand why would they take disciplinary action?”
The schools chief said he understood what the teacher was trying to do, but did not approve.
“I think when it happened, the next step though is something that was unfortunate in the use of slavery in a way that really denigrates what place and the significance of what took place as far as the bad things that happened to people who were slaves, the bad things that happened to people of color,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott told WCBS 880 reporter Rich Lamb on Friday.
The Department of Education released a statement saying the situation was “obviously unacceptable and we will take appropriate disciplinary action”
“The chancellor spoke to the principal and she has already taken steps to ensure this does not happen again,” the statement read.
Principal Adele Schroeter said she was “appalled” by the incident and has ordered sensitivity training for the entire staff. The principal is also planning to meet with families to talk about the worksheet.
The school on East 56th Street is 60 percent white and 5 percent African American, 1010 WINS’ Eileen Lehpamer reported.
The principal now plans to use this incident as the basis for a training program for all the teachers at the elementary school.
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