Saturday, January 7, 2012

Kirsten West Savali: Atlanta Metro-Area School District Defends Using Slavery Equations To Teach Math To Third Graders


Your Black News reports:

Third grade math is not normally the course where students are taught about beating slaves and dehumanizing labor, but two teachers at Beaver Ridge Elementary School in Atlanta thought it was a perfectly normal integration.

Chris Braxton told Fox 5 Atlanta that his son came home from school Friday afternoon with a racially inflammatory assignment that featured such questions as:

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

“How many baskets of cotton did Frederick fill?”

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

While the Gwinnett County School District admits the questions were “inappropriate,” they are not disciplining the teachers in any way; in fact, they came swiftly to their defense.

Spokesperson Sloan Roach said “two teachers from the school came up with the questions as part of a cross-curriculum activity,” reports Fox 5. After learning about slavery in social studies, they apparently felt it would be an excellent idea to reinforce the horrific violence of oppression by having their students count how many times African slaves was abused by their owners.

“They were trying to connect what they learned there with the math,” Roach said. This is simply a case of creating a bad question.”

Though Braxton rightfully feels that the questions are racist, the school district defends the teachers against the charges, simply stating that the “bad” questions will not be used again.

I have seen many cases of ignorance and racism in the media, but this is one of the most vile, reprehensible forms of indoctrination. To teach eight-year-olds math by inserting slavery into the equation is evidence that plantation philosophy not only runs rampant in Georgia politics, but in education as well.

There were no other questions that could have been asked? Maybe: How many slave-owners deserved to be lynched for the atrocities they committed against their African slaves?   

Answer: All of them.

How callous and culturally insensitive is it to throw out numbers without giving voice to the the enormity of the subjugation that African slaves faced? How absolutely heinous to have children count beatings in their head, diminishing African people to mere human chattel in a classroom setting in 2012?

If we’re going to talk about math, let’s talk about all the wealth that was stolen from future generations of the African-American community during slavery, when every back-breaking second, minute and hour of work translated into profits for white America while our families were beaten, murdered, raped and torn apart?

If African-Americans were allowed to accumulate wealth during slavery, would we still face the highest levels of poverty and unemployment in the country? Why aren’t our future leaders examining that mathematical equation?

These teachers deserve to be fired. Immediately. No, that’s not over-reacting; no, it’s not overly sensitive.

When the Gawker blogger was fired for referring to Kanye West’s new company, DONDA, named after his late mother, as an acronym for “Dis Original Nigga Dresses Aight," I found it difficult to believe that a brother whose current hit is “Niggas in Paris” would be offended. When Rihanna was referred to as a “niggabitch” by Dutch magazine, Jackie, I refused to feel empathy for a woman who uses the words “nigga” and “bitch” on a regular basis. When scholars attempted to rewrite Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn by removing “nigger” and replacing it with “slave,” I passionately disagreed with the artistic and historical revisionism, believing that “slave” is just as---if not more---psychologically damaging as the word “nigger.”

But this…is inexcusable.

If the Gwinnett County School District continues to deflect and minimize the  severity of this situation, serving as accessories to the teachers themselves, then it would behoove African-Americans in the district to put two and two together and realize that they don’t give a damn about you, your children, nor their education.

The math doesn’t get any simpler than that.



Dea Win said...

This story is insane. Everybody demands sensitivity and get it except our community. HOW INAPPROPRIATE for the teachers and the administrators to try to justify this insensitivity!

Akcall said...

While on the surface it does seem a bit inflammatory, I can see how these teachers might have meant well. Too often us white folks are seen as belittling our nation's history of slavery, racism and ineqaulity. When and how do you propose youngsters get this information? It is unpleasant, but they must know about it to truly see the damage that has resulted.

Anonymous said...

Just sue. Forgo all justifications, compromises, and apologies.

Xero said...

In no way am I callous or desensitized to the plight of anyone suffering, I actually applaud the effort. As ill advised as it was executed, it has promise. While obvious revisions are needed to the particulars, I'm past exhausted to history in the classroom totally omitting any mention of slavery and the effects still felt today. The atrocities, tragedies, sufferings, outright debasing of a people (any people) should never be forgotten. Worse than forgotten, turned into a quotable phase or idea with no discernible weight or significance.

The transformation of the use of "n*gger" is a testament to this. The past several generations are increasingly disconnected and ignorant of the hateful origins that once, and still, laced ignorant white speech. Now it's used without regard along with various other choice degradations that only raise alarms when used outside the "agreed/assumed boundaries". Even the push to accept the confederate flag solely as a symbol of southern pride by social, media and corporate influences is an affront largely relagated to obscurity. Akin to the German swastika, it became a symbol of a group largely interested and invested in the oppression of a people in the name of righteousness and progress, paying for it with the blood, tears and lives of countless many.

Cross subject instruction might be tha springboard to a proper sense of understanding for the younger generations to know assess the tragedy committed.
What was the middle passage?
How many African tribes people could fit into the average slave ship?
Of that many, how many made it to the destination?
Of those that didn't, what contributed to that loss?
What was the value placed on a slave?
How many countries contributed to the slave trade? What was traded?
Why were drums, reading and swimming prohibited?
Who was Willie Lynch? Whats was written and how does it effect the community today?
Why was the underground railroad so dangerous and so important?
When and why was slavery abolished?
Abolished vs illegal?
What were the restitutions and reparations promised?
What was Jim Crow laws?
Why were Africans and African Americans, now freed from slavery, being lynched?
Where does the term "picnic" derive from?
Why were African Americans excluded from military service, blood donation, and voting rights?
.... Alex Haley's Roots, Miseducation of the Negro, Autobiography of Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Paul Robeson, Sam Greenlee included into required reading, viewing,and knowing would be a momentous thing.

With guidance this has promise, as long as it's treated with the upmost respect in planning and execution.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Xero's answer far too many young people have not been taught about the horror of slavery. And there are too many people that are willing to sweep the past under the table.

This is not a logical thing to do for unless we learn and understand the past then history is destine to repeat itself. The atriocties of slavery was bad enough without the cover up and enslavement of young minds is much worse.

We don't mind hearing our young people, disrespect themselves by using words like nigger, bitch, whore, speaking of themselves in negative terms. Thinking of themselves as nobodies. How many parents have thought of it as being alright that junior say ugly stuff? As long as he makes aboat load of money.

Well it is not alright, for him too use words that make people who fought for our freedom kringe. So if it takes two young teachers through math to teach the ugliness of a culture that degraded a proud people. The let them teach,at least some cared enough to try.

Wordslinger said...

i think the issue is that these kids are very young, and there was no context given. merely inserting terms from slavery's history into math problems is nowhere the same thing as teaching about slavery. picture this, and the outrage that would ensue immediately:

"if 30 concentration camp victims were sent to their deaths each hour, for four hours, how many, etc."

who'd dare do such a thing?

Anonymous said...

Sister that's why our children should not be withheld from learning the horrors of slavery but also those who were brave enough to fight for its abolishment. Add people like Nate Turners resolve to the problem even though it was a futile effort. How else can one understand the minds of white people when we keep sugar coating and hiding our exitence.

Anonymous said...

Why are Black folk making excuses for this? Why are you acting like cowards? They are humiliating and disrespecting our children. We will decide what to teach our children. I don't here gentiles teaching Jewish children on scientific principles of the concentration camps. Why do we allow racist whites to denigrate our people? Oh yeah, too much knee-grows making excuses.

Popsy said...

Wow. I'm 4 things here...I'm from GA, Black, a teacher (math), and a parent. First of all, there is not anything in the world that would make me put slaves in equations in an effort to teach students about slavery. AND I'M A BLACK WOMAN who'd want them to understand and know it behooves me like anonymous mentioned above, that we, if we are indeed Black, are making dumb excuses for such poorly low character. These are not dumb women. They know well what they were doing when they collaborated like they said they did, and created these so called cross curriculum lessons to incorporate math in social studies. Clearly they need to stick to social studies and leave the math to the math department. I can only cringe as to what they actually are teaching them daily. And to think, these heifers aren't even fired. Hmpf. Sounds as if they have a "good ole boy" gang over at the school district there anyway. Enough already. They were wrong, knew it then, know it now. Fire them. Point. __blank___ (.) Period!

Anonymous said...

Please refer to "The Historic Journey" curriculum ( This curriculum includes the history of enslavement and allows for a balance truth of the history from all perspectives to be taught. The curriculum is webb based as well as hard copy and professional development and in-service training on using the curriculum is available.

Anonymous said...

It is a shame that we, as Americans, are so far removed from our history to think of such analogies as the Atlanta teachers applying slavery issues to arithmetic; not to mention their insensitivity would be acceptable as a means of bringing something, anything to the forefront. Granted we all need to know our HISTORY so that it will not repeat itself, but I'm sure there were better ways to get the message out to all of our "Leader's fo Tomorrow".

Anonymous said...

i can believe they think is something worth teaching ..i do not . if we black ppl wanted our children to be taught this attrocity we know how to do so ourselves ..and if our maker thought it was a permanent position he would have never allowed it to be abolished . The word abolish itself exhibits Gods plans for slavery . ,,but i myself believe if these teachers really wanted to teach our children something important ,they would teach them that before slavery we blacks were a proud and advanced culture and were also proven to be the first race created,the oldest mummys and skeletons recorded were black ,... etc...also about the black pharoahs of ancient egypt ,,the biblical history of our ppl,,how egyptians were black ppl things of this nature ,,,because this edifies us as a ppl not giving us debasing equations as to our fall from glory, our capture and our worst thing that ever happened to the black race at the hands of our enemies teach them how our past history pre dates the slave trade that we were a proud and envied race and in the bible God refers to us as his "chosen ppl "htere are a lot of things that could be taught in the public school system yet never is, was ,nor probably will ever be taught yet these teachers want to give them a view of the slave trade only??seems a bit odd to me .