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Monday, January 9, 2012

Gwinnett County students learn math, how to keep their slaves in line

Word problems are the bane of every child's existence (unless they're NERDS, amirite?). Besides being mathy, the imagined narratives within tend to be stupid and impossible to relate to. As Lisa Kudrow's character puts it in the modern classic Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion, "Like, there's a guy in a rowboat going X miles, and the current is going like, you know, some other miles, and how long does it take him to get to town? It's like, 'Who cares? Who wants to go to town with a guy who drives a rowboat?'"

If educators are going to reach students in the era of video games, the Internet and hula hoops, they have to build their math lessons around topics that really speak to today's youth ... like slavery.

Christopher Braxton, whose 8-year-old son attends Beaver Ridge Elementary School in Norcross, told WSBTV that his kid came home with math homework straight out of the Antebellum era:

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.

A spokeswoman for the Gwinnett County School District — whose name is Sloan Roach, by the way — explained that the questions were part of a "cross-curricular activity" that would blend math with social studies.

To play devil's advocate here, kids shouldn't be sheltered from the abhorrent aspects of American history — you know what they say about being doomed to repeat history — but it would seem prudent to offer a little context and maybe some degree of gravity. So, yeah, teaching kids to multiply by calculating slave beatings probably isn't the best way to go about it.

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