The 9-year-old students at Manhattan’s P.S. 59, which include some of the children of United Nations personnel, were given the bizarre assignment by teacher Jane Youn who somehow got the notion that she could combine a slave history lesson with math. Youn asked the students to come up with their own questions and distributed them as homework last month.
Some examples of the questions that were posed were:
“One slave got whipped five times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month (31 days)?”
“In 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?”
The controversial questions were handed out to at least one fourth grade class and were only uncovered after student teacher Aziza Harding was instructed to hand them out to another class.
Harding discovered the disturbing questions as she was was reportedly photocopying the assignment. Harding told NY1, “I’m just like, Wow, this is really inappropriate. It shouldn’t be a homework assignment, and I did not want to make copies of this.”
Youn, who instructed Harding to make copies of the homework, was reportedly in a meeting, so Harding reportedly made the decision to photocopy another assignment instead of continuing with the intended one. Harding then contacted one of her professors at New York University, where she is a graduate student, to inform him about what she had experienced.
Harding’s professor, Charles McIIwain, was so taken aback by the blatant racially insensitive material that he contacted the news outlet NY1 and they in turn alerted the school’s principal, Adele Schroeter, about the matter.
Unfortunately, one fourth grade class had already taken their assignment home, and according to McIIwain, the entire episode is just one big travesty. The NYU professor told NY1, “You’re ostensibly teaching or trying to teach history or call attention to a particular historical moment, yet there’s no explanation, there’s no education, there’s no teaching going on,” McIlwain said. “And so, for someone who is probably, at 9 years of age, has maybe heard of slavery but probably doesn’t know what it is really like, their first, perhaps, and most lasting impression about this historical event comes in a very abstracted, nonchalant type of thing that they have no real sense of connection to.”
When the Department of Education was contacted, they released the following statement:
"This is obviously unacceptable, and we will take appropriate disciplinary action against these teachers. The Chancellor spoke to the principal, and she has already taken steps to ensure this does not happen again.”
Meanwhile, Schroeter will reportedly be meeting with families, staff members, and all responsible parties will undergo related training.