Third graders in in Gwinnett County, Ga., were given math homework Wednesday that asked questions about slavery and beatings.
Christopher Braxton told ABC News affiliate WSB-TV in Atlanta that he couldn’t believe the assignment his 8-year-old son brought home from of Beaver Ridge Elementary school in Norcross.
“It kind of blew me away,” Braxton said. “Do you see what I see? Do you really see what I see? He’s not answering this question.”
The question read, “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”
Another math problem read, “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”
Another question asked how many baskets of cotton Frederick filled.
“I was furious at that point,” Braxton said. (source)
These question are not only absent historical context, they serve to further dehumanize Blacks. There was a time when Blacks were considered 3/5 of a human being, and so to coldly calculate whippings and the work of slaves is to harken to a time when legally Blacks were worth less than Whites.
Apparently, this was an effort to link classes from social studies to math, but clearly it was not only a bad idea, it was extremely offensive. Where was thought about how triggering this might be to a child, or the parent that had to help complete the homework? There have been countless examples of this sort of thing the moment slavery becomes a part of the curriculum. Ironically, it is white children that are often seen as the victim when slavery is taught in school.
What educators fail to take into account is the additive nature that the histories of various populations are treated with. Simply attaching it to math as yet another mode of teaching is just as limiting as the fact that a subject as significant as slavery and racism is to U.S. history, is simply one section in modules of education. Instead of making a conscious effort to interweave the history of oppressed people artfully throughout the year, teachers take a slam dunk approach and quickly move on because the history that counts, is that of the oppressor. This is in part why I oppose Black history month.
It is is in part because there is no acknowledgement of power relations, that issues like this continue to arise. How did the questions the teacher asked teach about ongoing oppression? How did they work to frame racial relations? I doubt these are questions ze thought about, as ze callously created the math homework. As much as children learn to read, write and do math, in schools, they also learn about hierarchy and where there place is on the hierarchy pyramid. Schools enforce social discipline, they do not encourage children to think critically or to understand larger concepts. The number one lesson taught on a daily basis is conformity, and this means conforming to the status quo no matter how terrible this is to historically marginalized people.
This story has finally made main stream news and of course there is the usual expressions of shock. At this point, I find the response to the racism engaged in by Whiteness to be laughable. When Blacks talk about their experience of racism, we are told that we are being too sensitive and sometimes accused of our right lying. Then come the professions about how things are so equal now and that people no longer see race. There is nothing shocking about what the teacher did and in fact it amounts to an ordinary day in a White supremacist state. People need to stop with the expressions of shock, because not only does it display your privilege, it is a stunning example of your choice to be ignorant.