Posted on February 22, 2013

Outrage as Respected New York Elementary School Is Discovered Setting Math Problems Based on Slavery

Katie Davies, Daily Mail (London), February 22, 2013

Outraged parents have hit out at a New York elementary school after it emerged 9-year-old pupils were being set math problems about the killing and beating of slaves yesterday.

Two questions on a homework assignment set by a teacher at PS 59 Beekman Hill International have caused uproar for asking pupils to subtract the number of dead slaves from alive ones and calculate the number of times a slave was whipped over a month.

‘One slave got whipped five times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month (31 days)? Another slave got whipped nine times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month? How many times did the two slaves get whipped together in one month?,’ read one question.

‘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?,’ read the other.

A student teacher was asked to photocopy the worksheet entitled ‘Slavery Word Problems Homework’ last Thursday and refused before making a complaint, NY1 reports.

As well as the intended class another fourth grade group had been set the assignment and completed it last month.

According to the report they wrote the problems as part of a class overseen by a teacher who has been working at the school for seven years, she was named by the New York Post today as Jane Youn.

State Senator Simcha Felder, who is the chairman of the New York City Education Sub-Committee, has now called for Youn and the teacher who most recently set the assignment, reportedly fourth grade teacher Jacqueline Vitucci, to be removed.

‘While the city, state and unions are busy haggling over teacher evaluations, New York City’s students are being subjected to reprehensible and irresponsible educational materials. I am calling for the immediate removal of these two teachers,’ he told the broadcaster.

Parents and guardians at the East Manhattan school likewise expressed their horror.

Julia Morales told NY1: ‘This is unacceptable. I would not be happy with this.”

Another simply wrote ‘this is disgusting’ on the school’s PTA Facebook page.

Aziza Harding, the Atlanta graduate student, who revealed the assignment told the broadcaster: ‘I’m just like, ‘Wow, this is really inappropriate’. It shouldn’t be a homework assignment, and I did not want to make copies of this.’

She refused to copy and hand out the paper last Thursday and reported it to her overseeing professor at New York University, Charlton McIlwain.

‘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,’ he said.

‘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 school’s headteacher, Adele Schroeder, told the channel she was ‘appalled’ and would be hosting a meeting with parents about the assignment. She said teachers would be trained in the area but was unavailable for further comment today.

The Department of Education said: ‘This is obviously unacceptable and we will take appropriate disciplinary action against these teachers. The Chancellor spoke to the principal, and she has already taken steps to ensure this does not happen again.’

Last year a school in Georgia came under fire for using a similar assignment.

Beaver Ridge Elementary was criticized for the worksheet which included the question: ‘Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?’.

It also asked ‘If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in 1 week?’.

Beekman Hill has a waiting list to get into Kindergarten and is awarded 9 out of 10 on – a level only awarded to a handful of schools in the city.

Many of its students are the children of personnel at the nearby UN building.