Slave math lesson should not end careersTopic: Traditional Education
Parents should not rush to condemn third-grade Beaver Ridge Elementary teachers as racists for using slavery beatings to teach math concepts, say officials with Georgia educator organizations.
The slave math lesson created by a teacher to reinforce a lesson on Frederick Douglass may have used poor judgment, but it shouldn’t lead to the termination of those who wrote or handed it out without reviewing it, said Calvine Rollins, president of the Georgia Association of Educators, a professional organization of about 42,000 members.
The math assignment was sent home with more than 100 students. Among its 20 questions were word problems on slaves picking cotton and oranges. Some mentioned Douglass: "If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?"
“This is an unfortunate incident,” Rollins said. “I don’t believe the teacher wanted to expose those kids to anything offensive. Gwinnett County teachers are dedicated. They work hard and try on a daily basis to do the right thing.”
But mistakes can occur because the burden on teachers to create lessons, tutor kids, analyze data and complete paperwork can be daunting, especially in a district the size of Gwinnett County Schools, the state’s largest system.
Beaver Ridge Elementary, which has more than 1,260 students, has more kids than some Georgia school districts. Records show Beaver Ridge's population is nearly 60 percent are Hispanic; 28 percent, African-American; 5.3 percent, Asian; and 4 percent, white.
“Before passing judgment, I certainly hope the parents and the community leaders that are calling for the firing of these teachers allow the school district to fully investigate the cause behind the incident.”
Four of nine third-grade classrooms distributed the assignment to students, including teachers who passed it on without reviewing it first. The incident is still under investigation.
School officials have not released the names or races of teachers involved.
The slave math lessons have made national news and been fodder for radio and TV talk shows including “The View.”
Georgia NAACP leaders have met with Gwinnett Superintendent J. Alvin Wilbanks to ask that teachers involved with the lesson be terminated.
“The superintendent said it was an honest mistake,” said Ed DuBose, state NAACP president. “But there is no scenario in which I think that a teacher should have developed questions that inflammatory. That teacher should have no future in the teaching profession. Our position is that teacher and the teachers who distributed the questions should be fired. Five teachers made the right decision not to distribute them.”
But state education leaders say this incident should not end the careers of dedicated teachers.
“It certainly is not a good situation, but I don’t think that it rises to the level that you want to fire someone,” said Tim Callahan, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, which has a membership of more than 82,000. “It’s a good teachable moment, not just for the students, but for the adults as well. Hopefully they will take it and move forward.”
Beaver Ridge principal Jose DeJesus issued a letter to parents this week on the school’s website informing them about the situation and reassuring them that teachers “embrace diversity” and are not biased.
“Our third graders have been studying famous Americans and had been reading about Frederick Douglass, a former slave,” DeJesus wrote. “These particular questions were an attempt at incorporating some of what students had been discussing in social studies with their math activity. First, let me say that I understand the parents' concerns about these questions. While I encourage our teachers to create cross curricular lessons, my expectation is that those lessons be appropriate and provide true connection between the subject areas. That did not occur in this case and we are working to ensure that this does not happen again and that this situation is handled appropriately.”
This is the second time in two years race and ethnicity on a homework assignment sparked complaints at Gwinnett Schools. There was a similar incident in Cobb Schools last fall.
Last school year, third-graders at Gwinnett's Chesney Elementary were given a reading homework packet that included a story titled "What Is an Illegal Alien?" The assignment, which was copied from the Internet by a new teacher, was not reviewed by the school's subject area department chair before it was distributed. The math sheet created at Beaver Ridge also failed to undergo a content review, officials said. Under district policy, the worksheet should have been reviewed before being handed out to students, but that process was not followed.
In September, Cobb Schools came under fire for a similar incident, an assignment by a teacher at Campbell Middle School. Students were asked to write on the issue of dress codes and read a fictional two-page letter written by a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian woman. The character wrote approvingly of wearing the Islamic veil -- and of her fiance's multiple wives and the law of Sharia.
Gwinnett Schools human resources officials are investigating the Beaver Ridge incident to decide whether punitive action is necessary. District officials said they would work with math teachers to come up with more appropriate questions.
Sloan Roach, Gwinnett Schools spokeswoman, said one teacher developed the questions, another made the copies and it was used in four classes. All involved are being questioned about their role and are still employed with the district, Roach said late Wednesday.