A fourth grade teacher at PS 59 just wanted to inject some social studies into her math assignment, but now she’s in hot water with parents and administrators after student teacher Aziza Harding refused to photocopy a worksheet titled “Slavery Word Problems Homework.” Harding, a graduate student at NYU, said she felt it was inappropriate to assign elementary school students math problems like, “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?” The second question got even more graphic, asking, “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?”
Rather than preparing the assignment for the class last week, Harding copied another worksheet and left the teacher a note saying she’d like to talk. Harding’s NYU professor, Charlton McIlwain, then contacted NY1, which showed the sheet to the school’s principal. She responded, “I am appalled by this.” The Department of Education said in a statement, “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.”
Harding’s supervising teacher didn’t write the worksheet. Students in another teacher’s class came up with the questions during a lesson on slavery last month, and the assignment already went home with those students. So, there were actually two teachers who didn’t think it was inappropriate to have a kids work on math problems that casually reference people suffering and dying with little historical context. But, how were they supposed to know? It’s not like there was a highly publicized story about a teacher getting in trouble for the exact same thing just a year ago.