Monday, February 25, 2013

Some New York School Children Were Encouraged to Do Math Problems Based on A Slave-Owner's Perspective

In US elementary schools teachers are encouraged to teach "across the curriculum" when they have the opportunity.  

This means that if you are a reading teacher, you should also try to include science, history, social studies, and even math, topics in your lessons (if you can think of a way to do that).  Also, if you are teaching math, you should try to introduce topics from history, social studies etc. into your lessons.

Unfortunately, sometimes teachers make mistakes.

A teacher at PS 59 in Manhattan (the schools in New York City are numbered, so PS 59 is Public School number 59) wrote two math word problems for his/her 4th grade class (10 year old children) that involved the historical issue of slavery in America.  He/she wrote these word problems in such a casual way that some parents were very angry - it seemed as if this teacher was encouraging students to look at this issue of slavery from the perspective of the slave owner, or to take the issue of slavery too casually.  Or, it could be said that the teacher was encouraging students to accept slavery as something necessary, acceptable or common that happened in the past.

Here are the problems:

"On 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?"

"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 slaves get whipped together in one month?"


Here's the article published by NY1 - a local New York City television station.

Vocabulary to help you understand the article:

elementary school - In the USA there are elementary, middle and high schools before college.  Elementary school lasts from K through 5.  A student starts Kindergarten at age 5.  Middle school is 6th through 8th grades.  High school is 9th through 12th grades.  Freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years.

to be based on something - to come from something.  "Based on the high unemployment statistics, it doesn't look as if the US economy is getting better."  If something (A) is based on something else (B), you can draw conclusions from (B).

to encourage someone - to positively suggest that someone do something

a curriculum - these are the formal lessons taught in a school; there is the math curriculum, the science curriculum etc.

common sense - if a person has common sense, he/she knows what every relatively intelligent person in the world should know, or acts the way any non-crazy person would act

slavery - a system in which some human beings are "owned" by other human beings and forced to provide free work

casual - easy, not forced, relaxed.  You can dress casually or formally.  You can take a casual approach to a problem.

perspective - viewpoint.  Different people have different perspectives on different issues depending on their past experiences.

a slave ship - this was the type of ship on which slaves were brought from Africa to the western hemisphere.

to take over a ship - to attack the crew and take control of the ship.

to be whipped - this was a form of punishment often used by slave-owners.  A whip is a long instrument used to strike the back of another person.

an exclusive - this is the first news source to write about this story

to be outraged - to be very angered

to be shocked - to be extremely surprised

to reference something - to mention something

inappropriate - not right

turned to, to turn to someone - to turn to someone means to go to that person for advice

to be appalled by something - to be shocked by something and disgusted

nonchalant - casual

to have an issue - if a person "has an issue," it is suggested that the person has a psychological problem (to have an issue is slang)

to be ticked off - this is also slang meaning to be very angry.  Actually it is a nice way of saying "pissed off."

unacceptable - it cannot be accepted or condoned or approved of

to ensure something - to make sure of something

a whistleblower - this is a person who points out a problem

to be desensitized - to be made to feel as if something terrible is not terrible. For example, many people have argued that children who watch TV or play video games become desensitized to violence.  Violence doesn't shock them any more.

a travesty - something which is ridiculous, a joke

to be held accountable - to be held responsible, to be considered responsible for something

to haggle over - to argue about. Right now teachers in NY City are arguing with the government over various issues.  Teachers do not want their evaluations of their performance to be made public.

reprehensible and irresponsible - disgusting, terrible, unacceptable

to commend someone - to say, "You did a great job!"

1)  Do you think that this student teacher needed to take this issue to a television station?  Shouldn't this have been an issue which could have been handled within the school?  Why do you think the student teacher's professor sent this to a television station?

2)  If this had not been sent to a TV station, do you think the principal of the school would have done anything?

3)  Do you think the teacher who did this (it looks as of two teachers were involved, actually) should be fired? (lose their jobs)

4)  Do you think this was an example of racism or stupidity?  (racism --> when someone hates a group because of its skin color)

Yes, I'm the guy who wrote the very funny ESL book: New York City Sucks, But You'll Wanna Live Here Anyway.

If this page is useful to you, please buy the book (it's quite inexpensive and useful!!!!). If you don't have an e-reader, drop me a line at and I'll send you a free copy via Word file. Let me know whether you have Word 2010 or an earlier version.
Yes, I'm also the guy who created the scandal in Asia two years ago :P

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