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March 07, 2012

Math homework horror stories

By Jessica Kelmon, Associate Editor

Making math fun can be a tall order. With kids complaining that math is boooooooring (and parents often exacerbating the problem by openly agreeing), it’s a tough, underappreciated job. So where’s an enterprising, hardworking teacher to turn for resources?

One third grade teacher at a DC charter school turned to a questionable homemade worksheet provider and printed out some eyebrow-raising word problems. Or should I say problematic? Or worrisome? No, let’s call a spade a spade: these questions are downright scary.

Here’s just one of the 20 problems given to a class full of 8- and 9-year olds:

“Tilda Tiger had many hungry children to feed on Thanksgiving Day. She caught 169 Africans, 526 Americans and 196 Indians. She then put the people equally into 9 enormous ovens to bake. How many desperate people were in each oven?”

When I was 8, this would’ve made me cry. And if I read this right before going to sleep, I’d have had nightmares for sure. Grade school should be a cannibalism-free zone. And don’t even get me started on the weird association between Thanksgiving and cooking people. (If you see the humor in this, a dcist blogger wrote a pretty funny account of this (now ex-) teacher’s complete misstep.)

This surprising lack of sound judgment before doling out homework isn’t an isolated incident. An elementary school teacher in Georgia recently sent home racist math problems about slavery, including these offending questions: 

“Each tree had 56 oranges. If 8 slaves pick them equally, then how many would each slave pick?”


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

In both of these cases, the schools reacted immediately and took steps to remedy the situation. In the former, the teacher was fired and the principal made it clear that the problems are completely out of line. In the latter, a spokesperson for the district explained that it was a poorly-explained, misguided attempt to have their math homework reinforce the social studies unit the class was working on. “We agree these questions were not appropriate,” the spokeswoman said. What’s more, the vice principal said the questions were shredded to prevent further use or circulation.

I assume this doesn't happen often. But does it? Have questionable assignments popped out of your child’s backpack – and if so, what did you do about it?


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Most teachers are isolated from the reality of other teachers' homework, and thus often pile it on; but there's no excuse for prejudicial or biased word problems. Unfortunately, the political atmosphere in America wreaks with the resurgence of subtle prejudices against our first African American president; so naturally it trickles down to the ignorant and prejudiced who still teach. We need to "educate" these educators to not think this way, or act this way; or suffer the consequences of professional discipline.

I agree. Teachers should be very careful about influencing our students politically, racially, religiously, etc. I disagree with the public schools enforcing Catholic and pagan holidays in schools. Halloween, Christmas, Easter, St. Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day. There shouldn't be any decorations or celebrations for any of these. As a substitute teacher I encourage discussion of the students ideas. One student said that Obama is a bad president. I asked what makes him think that. He didn't have an answer. He was only parroting back what he had been told. Then he thought I was pro Obama by questioning his negative remark. I offered no opinion in either direction of like or dislike. I only questioned their own likes or dislikes to open a thought provoking discussion, without bias, as a teacher should.

I agree that no teacher should push the agenda of Mr. Obama's being a bad (or good) president.

But please, let's stick with facts. President Obama is only part "African-American". And, no person in our counrty should EVER vote for (or against) a candidate on the basis of his/her skin color!

It seems to me that our teachers should never show any bias one way or the other concerning ethnicity. Race should NEVER be a deciding factor in a person's mind!

Couldnt agree more!!!!!!

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