Is slavery controversy a teachable moment? If so, what is the lesson?

Here is one of the questions that shocked parents in Gwinnett. (AJC Photo)

Here is one of the questions that shocked parents in Gwinnett. (AJC Photo)

The AJC has a long, thoughtful piece about what can be learned from the controversy over the slave questions given to third graders in a Norcross elementary school math class.

The piece begins with questions about how  such bizarre questions could have been conceived, no less handed out to third graders, at Beaver Ridge Elementary, a Gwinnett school where 88 percent of students are either black or Hispanic and half the staff is non-white.

(Still no word on the fate of the teacher. Gwinnett has not responded to my most recent questions about the teacher’s employment status but earlier had refuted reports that he has been let go for creating the two slave-related math questions.)

According to the story:

Christopher Braxton said he was helping his son Nicholas with homework like always when Nicholas stumbled upon the slave math word problems meant to re-enforce a history lesson about ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. One of the problems: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?”

“He didn’t understand the part about Frederick getting beaten,” the dad said. “He said, ‘What is a slave? Why did they do this?’ He had a lot of questions for me I couldn’t answer right away because me and my wife were floored.”

Plechette Walker, another parent, said she was so surprised about the questions that she showed up at school seeking answers. “You have Africans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, blacks and whites [attending Beaver Ridge],” she said. “The teachers are multicultural. You would think that in dealing with issues of race they would be very, very, sensitive.”

Educators, especially minorities, are expected to be culturally aware. When they fail to be sensitive to the cultural differences of their students, they run the risk of losing them with lessons that miss the mark and alienate parents.

This incident shows even multicultural staffs can show cultural “ignorance” said Jane Elliott, a consultant who developed a program on cultural competency . The experiences of people vary by region and country on how they see race, she said. “I’ve heard of some teachers doing slave auctions during Black History Month.”

Georgia requires education majors at its colleges to take a class that helps them to understand their cultural experiences and how to relate to the kids they may teach. Beaver Ridge principal Jose DeJesus told parents in a message on the school’s website that the lesson did not meet his standards: “We are working to ensure that this does not happen again.”

But where the breakdown occurred, which allowed the assignment to be distributed and sent home, is unclear. The questions were written by one teacher, copied by another and used in four classrooms. The district said that the 20-question homework sheet failed to undergo a mandatory content review. The teachers involved in the incident are facing a human resources investigation.

Last school year, a third grade teacher at Chesney Elementary in Gwinnett assigned a reading packet that contained the story “What Is an Illegal Alien?” It had not been reviewed first. In September, Cobb County students were asked to write about dress codes and read a fictional two-page letter written by a 20-year-old Saudi Arabian woman who spoke approvingly of her fiance’s multiple wives and the law of Sharia. It also had not been reviewed.

Many of the lessons public school students take home undergo extensive review. Lessons and questions in textbooks take nearly two years to develop and undergo multiple quality checks, said Jay A. Diskey, executive director of the Association of American Publishers’ school division. “A panel of academic reviewers go through the books to specifically look for  bias.”

Beaver Ridge teachers have common planning time to create and discuss assignments. Gwinnett Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said she did not know whether the school offers diversity training. The district does not have mandatory training though some campuses offer it to staff.

Some experts say there could be a downside to diversity training: Becoming overly sensitized can lead to less effective teaching. If teachers stick to repeating “safe facts” and teaching to tests, it will be difficult to produce critical thinkers, said Jane Hinson dean of college of education of Georgia College and State University. “The process of education is one that is powerful and it is one that is wrought with consequences that we as educators have to help each other be mindful of.”

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

57 comments Add your comment

that's goofy

January 18th, 2012
9:11 am

Even good teachers use poor judgment on occasion. I get they were trying to link history and math – but it was a terrible way to do it.

Diversity training is worthless.

Old timer

January 18th, 2012
9:15 am

The lesson is to rethink everything you send out, and maybe ask someone else to go over your ideas……

carlosgvv

January 18th, 2012
9:23 am

The lesson has been clear for many years now. If you’re going to do anything like this in the classroom, make sure you’re black and not white. If you’re black you’ll get a raise and promotion. If you’re white, you’ll get fired.

Van Jones

January 18th, 2012
9:30 am

So third graders don’t know what was happening in America 150 yrs ago? What are they teaching at this school anyway?

Pluto

January 18th, 2012
9:47 am

“This incident shows even multicultural staffs can show cultural “ignorance” said Jane Elliott, a consultant who developed a program on cultural competency “. I think this the lesson to be learned. Despite our embracing and celebration of our diversity, we still fall short of cultural competency. You gotta be kidding me! It seems that this episode of “cultural competency” has been beaten to a pulp and it is really time to move on to greener pastures. Is this where we are investing our resources in education?

Harp

January 18th, 2012
9:48 am

The lesson is if you are going to incorporate subjects make sure you are well versed on the subject matter. Another lesson is to develop checks and balances. Seems as if this was put together haphazardly which led to the mess.

Open Minded Educator

January 18th, 2012
9:48 am

@ Van Jones, they are too busy teaching for the CRCT and slavery is not on the CRCT so slavery will be left out on a lot of lesson plans!!!

Truth in Moderation

January 18th, 2012
9:49 am

The teachable moment is that we need to repeal Georgia’s mandatory school attendance law. As I have stated many times before, ALL education is religious, therefore, public schools violate the First Amendment. The so-called “cultural” views are religious views. Usually, the various religious views are in direct conflict with each other. Sometimes, they are in direct conflict with the laws of the land, as with the Mormon and Muslim religious approval of the practice of polygamy. The public schools MUST approve ALL legal religious practices, or NONE. Currently, THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN. Individuals should personally finance their own children’s education promoting their personal religious views. See how much time, money, and energy is wasted on IRRECONCILABLE DISPUTES?

Tired of Racist BS

January 18th, 2012
10:07 am

I think they should focus more on relating math to current events. Like how about: John and Tyrone are both arrested for possessing marajuana. Tyrone is sentenced to 1 year in prison while John gets probation. How much more time will Tyrone spend in jail than John for the same crime? How much longer will it take Tyrone to find a job than John because he has a record? Maybe then people like carlosgvv will understand the issue and not post idiotic racist comments on a blog.

Private schools work

January 18th, 2012
10:08 am

Not one mention of whether the teachers were white or not.

Private schools work

January 18th, 2012
10:08 am

“a Gwinnett school where 88 percent of students are either black or Hispanic and half the staff is non-white.”

See what I mean?

Private schools work

January 18th, 2012
10:09 am

“If you’re black you’ll get a raise and promotion. If you’re white, you’ll get fired.”

Can’t argue with that.

Private schools work

January 18th, 2012
10:10 am

“Maybe then people like carlosgvv will understand the issue and not post idiotic racist comments on a blog.”

You should retake remedial english. carlos didn’t type anything racist, Jesse.

mystery poster

January 18th, 2012
10:10 am

I don’t want to sound insensitive, but I’m tired of this story.
Reprimand the teachers and move on.

New word problem: If two teachers were suspended for 3 days each, and their hourly pay was $25, how much did this lapse in judgement cost each of them?

Beverly Fraud

January 18th, 2012
10:11 am

Here’s the lesson: That sometimes teachers (and the administrators who foist stuff on them) are capable of doing INCREDIBLY stupid things.

Lesson two: Just as important, if not more so. Some people will use incidents like this to be PSEUDO advocates for poor and minority children.

And we know this to be true because????…because some of the most vocal critics were NOWHERE TO BE FOUND when Atlanta Public Schools was SYSTEMATICALLY engaged in THE biggest cheating scandal in United States educational history.

If you are SUCH an advocate for poor and minority children, where was your voice then? Where was your outrage THEN?

And why is the media, who has been on this story like white on rice (pun intended) been COMPLETELY unwilling to ask that question?

Is this NOT a legitimate question for supposedly legitimate journalists/commentators to ask?

Still, make no mistake, the questions go to “11″ on the Stupid Meter.

mystery poster

January 18th, 2012
10:12 am

On a side note, this caught my eye:

“The district said that the 20-question homework sheet failed to undergo a mandatory content review.”

Does that mean that every worksheet sent home is supposed to be reviewed beforehand? What a bureaucratic nightmare.

Beverly Fraud

January 18th, 2012
10:48 am

On a side note, this caught my eye:

“The district said that the 20-question homework sheet failed to undergo a mandatory content review.”

Well let’s look at the LOGICAL IMPLICATIONS of this statement:

First: Gwinnett County is all but admitting that far from being the “finest” in the state, it thinks its teachers are INCREDIBLY stupid in that they can’t be trusted to give out mundane homework assignments.

Second: Gwinnett County is all but admitting that they think people in general are INCREDIBLY IGNORANT of what happens in the schools. Does anybody REALLY think that an administrator has time to look over 20-40 homework assignments on a DAILY basis?

Maybe “Yes We Have No Integrity” could be the new motto for Gwinnett County schools.

Sick-of-it

January 18th, 2012
10:48 am

Why does one have to be so sensitive about mixing math and history? Aren’t these schoolchildren being taught about slavery 160 or so years ago? I guess what George Orwell said a while back rings true today…

“In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

Frankie

January 18th, 2012
11:03 am

The problem is the school system is dragging their feet on a proper reprimand. had they said something about the Jews and holocost, they would have been fired forced to move and teaching license stipped…but because the subject matter was slavery, it should matter…
Some People on this blog are total idiots.
Even if they were black they should be fired…the questions were STUPID and INSENSITIVE…..

Tony

January 18th, 2012
11:05 am

My concern from this incident goes beyond the lapse in judgement in using the questions as they have been presented. As we continue to allow student testing to dominate the lessons we use in the classroom, we will continue to see poor quality work such as this. The overemphasis on testing has caused our schools to react with inappropriate focus on a much more narrow curriculum. This focus does not allow time for critical thinking to take place in our lessons. This is where we are losing sight of what should be happening in our classrooms.

Gregg

January 18th, 2012
11:10 am

@ Private Schools Work, in one post you said race wasn’t mentioned and in another you said that if the teacher was black they would get a raise and the white would be fired. Those two contradict each other, no? How do you know the punishment if the race was not discussed. Do your kids attend private schools? When the finish if they do, will they attend a private college or university?

Gregg

January 18th, 2012
11:11 am

@ Frankie 11:03 I agree with you. Regardless of race they should be fired and let’s move on.

Sick of it

January 18th, 2012
11:27 am

What were they thinking? This is the age of POLITICAL CORRECTNESS! It doesn’t matter where the truth hides. In the altar of Pol. Correctness, anything that you do reminds one of George Orwell’s old saying:

“In a time of Universal Deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”

Elaine

January 18th, 2012
11:42 am

This is the first time I’ve looked at the original worksheet. In addition to the slavery question, I’m also appalled by the dreadful grammar. Whatever happened to teachers setting a good example with their language?

Prof

January 18th, 2012
11:58 am

@ carlos gvv, 9:23 am, and Private Schools Work, 10:08 am and 10:09 am: I just want to point out that the original news story quoted the complaining parent Christopher Braxton as saying that his child’s teacher is Hispanic. Also, the school’s principal is Hispanic, Jose DeJesus.

carlosgvv, I’ve pointed that out on several earlier blogs where you also contributed….as I have also noted that racial tensions exist between Hispanics and blacks, as well as whites and blacks. Why haven’t you noted the correct ethnicity of the teacher here?

Beverly Fraud

January 18th, 2012
12:50 pm

Just out of curiosity, can anybody find ANY web reference to Edward Dubose expressing moral outrage as to the damaged cause by APS administrators and teachers by THE largest, most SYSTEMIC cheating scandal in United States educational history?

After all if he TRULY is an advocate for the children of Atlanta, there should, at very least be SEVERAL statements to that effect, shouldn’t there?

V for Vendetta

January 18th, 2012
12:59 pm

Beverly,

Completely on point.

Truth,

Every time you type, we all get dumber.

Not surprised

January 18th, 2012
1:10 pm

I wonder if the teacher thought about composing a question about the slave owner?
If Mr Charlie raped 2/3 of his young black females and he owned 24, how many did he rape?
Bonus question: Would the offsprings be considered black or white?

Gwinnettian

January 18th, 2012
1:14 pm

Mahopinion

January 18th, 2012
1:21 pm

The teachable moment is that you can’t legislate what and how people think, no matter how PC you want other people to be. Racism exists in every culture and trying to pretend it doesn’t is asinine.

The Carnivore

January 18th, 2012
1:27 pm

The answer is … 14. (7×2=14)

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

January 18th, 2012
1:29 pm

Just another “storm in a teacup.” No wonder China and other countries are kicking our rear-ends in most anything and everything. OH yes, we have paid protestors, with no more than a thimble full of knowledge, dressed in all their Sunday finery shuffling along the sidewalk attempting to convince everyone they are upset…LMAO…just another joke.

Nicky

January 18th, 2012
1:36 pm

My child goes to Gwinnett County Schools and they are learning about slavery. It was an attempt to do a cross curricular activity. People are being way too sensitive. How will the kids ever learn about the seriousness of the matter if they are not taught. Children need to think about what it would be like to bet several beatings per day as it relates to slavery. The uproar is nonsense.

drew (former teacher)

January 18th, 2012
1:36 pm

“The district said that the 20-question homework sheet failed to undergo a mandatory content review.”

Really? Every piece of “homework” is supposed to undergo a mandatory content review. BWAH!!!!! Give me a break.

By the way, it appears that one of the teachers resigned today, so that should appease some folks, right?

Reprimand yes, fire no.

January 18th, 2012
1:37 pm

Reprimand yes, fire no.

Not surprised

January 18th, 2012
1:37 pm

One more question: If you walk around with your head projected 1/2 meter up your rear end, how much light will you see ? :shock:

Truth in Moderation

January 18th, 2012
1:51 pm

Consider this Vendetta, in my home school, WHICH IS FULLY FUNDED BY YOURS TRULY, I do hire private tutors for some courses, and THANKFULLY, my child would never be forced to have you as a teacher. BTW, your chosen field of teaching expertise happens to be mine. Except, I actually earned a living in the free market. Just yesterday, I noticed some of my work FROM 1984 was up on YouTube. I must admit I got a good laugh about it! Have a NIIIIICE day!

drew (former teacher)

January 18th, 2012
1:57 pm

Because this “storm” revolves around race, the race of the teachers involved is significant. I don’t know if that information has been reported, but I’ve just assumed they are white, otherwise there wouldn’t be this big stink about it.

And privacy concerns might prevent the school system from releasing personal information, but there’s nothing to stop the AJC from doing a little investigative work, starting with the offended parents, to determine the race of the teachers.

Frankie

January 18th, 2012
2:41 pm

I have seen the incompetence in the school system in both dekalb and gwinnett county. there are teachers in the system that can not teach and do not know how to relate to the students they are “responsible” for. more ignorant teacher issues to come…..

Max

January 18th, 2012
4:07 pm

@ carlosgvv
January 18th, 2012
9:23 am

Private schools work
January 18th, 2012
10:09 am

You tell where in this country can you find evidence that a Black teacher has ever used such racism in an elementary curriculum? More racist BS!

dcb

January 18th, 2012
4:22 pm

Well, I see the “politically incorrect or insensitive” police have struck again. Way to go Gwinnett School System. Throw another teacher or teachers to the wolves. I hope the one who just announced during a “Human Resources Inquiry” meeting of his leaving told school system officials there to “take your job and shove it. I don’t need this.”

Hmmmmmmm

January 18th, 2012
4:54 pm

Rediculous…. More of the politically correct BS!!!

  

January 18th, 2012
4:55 pm

I noticed some of my work FROM 1984 was up on YouTube. I must admit I got a good laugh about it! Have a NIIIIICE day!

You do know that no one cares, right?

Go away.

Lee Wood

January 18th, 2012
4:56 pm

Of course, this attempted indoctrination of school children to accept slavery as a norm in Georgia is insulting, belligerent, and smacks of both enforcing the contemporary reality of Georgia as a slave state. When thousands of Georgia prisoners hold a non violent work stoppage and strike claiming they demand the abolition of prison slavery with the return of citizenship rights; and when black prisoner Troy Davis is “legally” lynched by Slaver Georgia Men, we turn our tear soaked eyes away; and it’s only when innocent children are attacked with such bully indoctrination that public outrage grows quantifiably to expose a renewed referenced threat to the rise of slavery again in Georgia. If such advocacy for the return of slavery to Georgia was subtly being fed to Georgia children, then surely citizens would threaten to stop paying taxes to fund the plantations, massive firings of school administrators and instructors and legislators would or could result, the entire slavocracy network would be exposed in all of it’s vile ugliness, and citizen demand might possibly, in a remote fashion humbly request or outrageously demand the abolition of ALL EXCEPTIONS FOR SLAVERY.
Constitution of Georgia:
Article 1, Section 4 (1868) Art, 1, Sec.1 Paragraph XIX. Slavery and Involuntary Servitude.(current):
“There shall be within the State of Georgia neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, SAVE AS A PUNISHMENT FOR CRIME AFTER LEGAL CONVICTION THEREOF.”
The silence is deafening. Here, in the Georgia State Constitution is a veiled, hidden EXCEPTION for slavery. We know that this EXCEPTION is not for the 1%er rich folks because the rich can always buy their way out of prison. All that is needed is to look inside prisons to see who’s inside. 99.999% of everyone inside prisons are poor, and a disproportionate number are black and other minorities. These are slaves.
Georgia children are being indoctrinated through the school pipeline into the State prison slave plantations where rich people reap great profits through the capture, conviction, and imprisonment of Georgia’s children. Soon, the returning propaganda will again reign supreme in that Masta’s take care of their slaves, and that open declared slavery is better than our current status quo.

What the crap

January 18th, 2012
5:24 pm

so we can’t use Susan B. Anthony or Frederick because they are RACIAL? So I can assume anything with the name George or Jefferson or Davis or Lee are pretty much banned as well?

Come on people…get over it ….

JP

January 18th, 2012
5:28 pm

Seriously, what’s the big deal here? So a question was asked that referenced slavery? Are we supposed to pretend it didn’t happen? Is it so painful for a child to read that something happened to someone else hundreds of years ago? I think not. Get over it, people. I read those questions and didn’t even blink. Put your energy somewhere productive.

James Craw

January 18th, 2012
5:32 pm

According to the story, the son asked his father “what’s a slave?” That alone should get his teachers fired. Not much teaching going on…

Big Cheese

January 18th, 2012
5:38 pm

This teacher should not be fired but rather reprimanded. It was poor taste and there was no use for it in the classroom. If we want to talk about race, lets do it. I think blacks are much more racist than whites. I haven’t seen any white flash mobs at malls or county fairs assaulting black people. Lets be real here, the problems start at home and the current Oval Office occupant could use the pully pulpit but he is probably a racist himself.

JP

January 18th, 2012
5:40 pm

You don’t see Jewish people demanding the Holocaust never be taught and that if their children hear of it the person who spoke the word should be fired.

It’s true. It happened. It’s history. It’s documented. Hopefully, the world is now a better place and it will never happen again. Same as slavery. But you don’t freak out if the subject is discussed.

Nat

January 18th, 2012
5:48 pm

The NAACP is tied up demanding these teachers be fired when they should be in Albany, GA voicing their concerns over the recent testing scandal since this school system is majority black.