Simone asks a lot of questions. These days she asks about the meanings of words. We’re lucky if we can read a book to her with only a few interruptions. We welcome those pauses. It shows us she has a thirst for learning, is questioning the world around her, and trying to understand it.

It can be quite frustrating, breaking down large issues or big words into pieces children can digest. Sometimes after a Q & A session with Simone, I am thankful I have the patience to think about her questions and deliver age-appropriate responses. We are our children’s first teachers, but we are not our children’s only teachers.

When I read about the students at a Georgia elementary school greeted with math problems about slavery and beatings, a fire burned in my gut.

“Each tree has 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

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

Like most things, school curricula need context. Without context most subjects, especially history and race, make absolutely no sense. While both questions are an attempt at accurately portraying what once happened in our country, they are confusing to students. Children can be very concrete in their learning. If they hear or read something, their minds are flooded with questions.

I don’t know what I would have said to Simone had she asked me why slaves were picking oranges in her math problem,  or why trees only have 56 oranges or a lot less than 56 oranges. As for beatings, she doesn’t really know what those are.  Why would someone want to do that to someone else two times a day? I can imagine her asking.

Teaching is a tough job, and many teachers try to make their lessons relevant. They try to link math or history or English with something that is happening in their students’ lives or to real events. It makes learning easier, sometimes it makes learning fun. Creating relevant lessons plans does not mean plucking pieces of historical information out of a book, setting them down inside a math problem, and expecting children to somehow understand. Good teachers, those how have given their lesson plans any amount of thought, know this. They know how children’s minds work. The teacher at the Georgia school deserves an F for a serious lapse in judgment.

ETA: NAACP calls for firing of teachers.


4 thoughts to “Racial Context Needed

  • Christine M. of Hartlyn Kids

    These math problems seem very insensitive. I think a big push behind these thoughtless questions is the need to cover state mandated standards.

  • Blanc2

    There are no words unless I were to go on a rant about boneheaded bureaucrats in traditional district-style public education, racism infusing the nation, and the mediocrity fostered by teacher’s unions.

  • Beth

    I’m appalled by this. The teacher, principal and superintendent of the school district should be severely disciplined. Shame on all of them!

  • taliba

    This reminds me of something my sister and I laugh at to this day becaus it’s so incredible. We are from Ohio and I’m 50 now, but we had a gym teacher (happened to be white) who taught a gym class full of Black children to sing “Jump down turn around pick a bale of cotton; jump down turn around pick a bale of hay…” Suffice to say it actually ended witht he chorus of “Oh Lordy!” It’s incredulous to us now; and if someone had done any such thing to my child when she was in school (or my grandchild now), they’d have hell to pay; but there’s no excuse for such behavior in this day and age. How did this lesson plan get by 9 other teachers for it actually to go to these 3rd graders!? They SHOULD be suspended and get diversity lessons at the very least.

    By the way I once had to go up to my daughter’s school to ask the teacher if she wanted me to teach a class on diversity (I was in Virginia getting my Masters at the time). She had informed my daughter that her assignment of “drawing a picture of a Queen” was incorrect, because Keisha depicted an African Queen (with bracelets and Headress etc.). The young woman told her there were no such thing as Queens in Africa. Needless to say, she had a great diversity lesson from me, so that she would never say that to another minority student.

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