The hypocrite lynch mob is out in force for this one.

The hypocrite lynch mob is out in force for this one.

The media, DOE and the hypocrite circle are having a field day with the 4th grade math homework sheet that contained inappropriate word problems about slavery.

To summarize, students were encouraged to create their own word problems in an effort to fuse math and social studies instruction. These questions were then combined into a homework sheet that at least one teacher had already used in January. Earlier this month, another 4th grade teacher asked their student-teacher, Aziza Harding, to make copies of the sheet. Harding felt uncomfortable doing this, so she left a note requesting to speak with the teacher instead. She then showed the sheet to one of her professors at NYU, Charlton McIlwain. McIlwain contacted the media and the DOE is considering the appropriate disciplinary procedures.

Rather than jump on the faux-outrage bandwagon, I would like to start a bandwagon of my own.

First, Aziza Harding sets the tone for this faux-outrage:

 “Instead of these kids being desensitized to this type of violence, that they have a general idea that, ‘Wow, this was a terrible thing that happened to a group of people for over 300 years,'” Harding said.

Well, by this logic, since the students created these questions does it not mean that they are already “desensitized”? Is “desensitized” really the appropriate word to describe a bunch of 9-year-olds? How much empathy do 4th-graders have to begin with? Perhaps they can empathize with someone who is suffering in front of them. Can they really empathize with the suffering of people who lived 150 years ago?

To be sure, using this homework sheet was not a good idea for many reasons. It trivializes the issue of slavery. It not only trivializes the suffering endured by enslaved people, it trivializes slavery as a historical issue with which we are still dealing as a country. These student-generated questions should have been a signal that the issue of slavery needs to be taught with more gravitas to children who are so young.

This seems to be an issue of teachers under pressure to create “cross-curricular” activities. Or, it could be an issue of teachers under pressure to infuse literacy throughout the entire curriculum. Perhaps it is both. It highlights how meaningless cross-curricular studies and literacy-infused math can be when it is forced, whether by teachers or administrators. By “forced” I mean when done for the sake of doing it rather than being an organic overlap between disciplines.

There are just some instances when you cannot connect two disciplines. Math is best infused with history when it involves some sort of statistical analysis. For 4th-graders, perhaps they can be given the years of significant events in the history of slavery and be asked to add and subtract. “How many years between the Constitutional ban on the slave trade and Nat Turner’s Rebellion?” It does not seem that the math being taught in the ill-conceived slavery worksheet was any more difficult than that anyway.

The entire push behind cross-curricular studies and literacy-infused math is really one of the many hare-brained fads pushed on teachers by education researchers. Some researcher somewhere found that these things “work” with a group of children they used as lab rats, which means that teachers everywhere should use it. Not only should we use it, we must use it NOW because the “future” of children is at stake. We cannot afford to lose one more minute!

Speaking of hare-brained educationists, this brings us to the other untold part of the story. Aziza Harding supposedly left a note with her cooperating teacher. Yet, for some reason, she was just bursting at the seams with outrage that she had to show the worksheet to her NYU professor. And what does the professor, Charlton McIlwain, do? He does not advise her. He does not even call the school. He calls the media. What did he think would happen if he called the media?

Here is what will happen:

The principal said she’ll be meeting with families and all staff members will undergo related training.

The whistleblowing student teacher said she hopes that P.S. 59 students will get help understanding why slavery is a much more serious issue than these simple math problems.

Sure, just at the expense of turning the school upside down in the process. NY1 was at the school last week. The principal has to do damage control. Teachers will be walking on eggshells for the foreseeable future. You tell me: will this be a net loss or net gain for the children? Do you really believe Ms. Harding accomplished her mission in getting students to understand why slavery is such a serious issue?

There promises to be even more fallout from McIlwain’s ill-conceived phone call to the media:

After seeing NY1’s story, State Senator Simcha Felder, who is the chairman of the New York City Education Sub-Committee, emailed a statement that read, “While the city, state and unions are busy haggling over teacher evaluations, New York City’s students are being subjected to reprehensible and irresponsible educational materials. I am calling for the immediate removal of these two teachers.”

Felder also commended the student teacher for coming forward.

Yes, someone’s head must roll for this.

Either Harding and McIliwain are really bad or really stupid people. Perhaps they are both. If McIlwain is an education professor, someone who is an “expert” on schooling who presumably went through the rigorous infantile process to receive an ED.d, he has not the foggiest idea of how the media and the school system work. If his goal was to help children, he has accomplished exactly the opposite.

As for Aziza Harding, it is great to be outraged about things, is it not? It is so easy and costs absolutely nothing on your end. You can have a knee-jerk reaction to something, ring the alarm bells and end up being quoted in the media as some sort of enlightened crusader for justice.

Next time, why not actually talk to the teacher first? Furthermore, in the age of Google where employers are sure to look up anyone they are considering for a job, what principal is going to want an oversensitive, media-hungry nooblet on their staff?

Not to worry, I am sure there are a few charter schools who would love to hire you for three years before spitting you out like bubble gum that has lost its flavor. Then maybe you can get a taste of how it feels to be on the receiving end of the process you help set in motion on others.


  1. Yes….step forward….and call the media. Isn’t that a normal reaction? This must make the “reporting” person feel so special! I’m offended….who should I call? I rarely, get offended, and when I do, I step up, and let the offender know. This story, just cries out for further scrutiny. I feel, this whole incident could have been avoided…if one person read the sheet..ripped it up, and said…THIS WON’T WORK…’s inappropriate! And then given their explanation. It’s called a hearty debate.

    As a math teacher, I was once asked…”Why don’t you just completely relate math to the literacy curriculum”? I can relate “some” literacy to math. I always found “math through literacy context”- to be ineffective, and quite difficult. Math is cut and dry, no matter what words..I place around the numbers…it still is the same problem.
    It is also quite sad, that teachers are being forced to try to connect everything they teach. This is just not possible, and this is an example of what can happen.


  3. Sounds like Aziza Harding questioned an absurd math work sheet (shite?) that never should have been copied & her advisor couldn’t wait to create public furor by placing her neck on the chopping block with absolutely no regard. Shame on you for not requesting an interview with all parties before grinding your axe. How are you any better? A year ago we had virtually the exact same ridiculous slavery/math paper fiasco in Georgia. This paper should have been caught & stopped. Maybe it’s only a small problem if you’re white? If you’re black then you should get over it – right?

    • “Sounds like Aziza Harding questioned an absurd math work sheet (shite?) that never should have been copied & her advisor couldn’t wait to create public furor by placing her neck on the chopping block with absolutely no regard.”

      That would make sense if Harding did not make a bunch of self-serving, self-righteous comments to the media. Her quotes make it clear that she was comfortable with the uproar she helped cause. Nice try for trying to pin it all on her advisor.. I didn’t see him give a quote to the media anywhere.

      “Shame on you for not requesting an interview with all parties before grinding your axe.”

      Yes, because I have a team of reporters here working around the clock to keep this place humming, all while I spend my days in the newsroom chomping on a cigar giving orders to,my staff.

      What you call an “axe” is really disgust, seeing as how I have seen countless teachers destroyed by such foolhardy actions like Aziza Harding’s and her advisor.

      “How are you any better? ”

      Easy: I have never potentially destroyed another person’s career because I have hurt feelings. I didn’t show a callous and reckless disregard for other people’s livelihoods because I was “offended”, and boy have I been offended.

      “A year ago we had virtually the exact same ridiculous slavery/math paper fiasco in Georgia. This paper should have been caught & stopped. Maybe it’s only a small problem if you’re white? If you’re black then you should get over it – right?”

      Yeah, I know all about the situation in Georgia, Did the kids also make the questions on that sheet? The foolishness of the teachers comes from making copies to be used with their students. Many students already took the sheet home, completed it and turned it in without so much as a peep. If any of them or their families were offended, they certainly did a good job of hiding it. The teachers were obviously under pressure to create cross-curricular activities and infuse literacy into math, and ended up overreaching in the process. Should they be fired for this? Should they be put in the stockades? Or should it be a learning experience and a mistake that can be corrected?

      Nobody said the sheet was not in poor taste. I clearly said as much in the post to which you responded. My contention is that they should not be fired.

      I suppose you missed the follow-up article to this story where the parents of this school came in to STICK UP for their children’s teachers. They acknowledged it was a mistake but they don’t want their children teacher fired for it. I suppose they should be offended, right? I am sure there are many families of color (because this is NYC, and P.S. 59 is in Brooklyn) who were part of the groundswell of support for the teacher. How about you let them decide how offended they want to be? How about you put away your pitchfork and your torch and slow the hell down. Perhaps you should save your indignation for stuff that matters, not overblown media hyped nonsense.

      How are you any better from the ignorant masses who get their heart strings plucked so easily by yellow journalism without so much as a second thought for the bigger picture? How are you any better than NY1 or the Post that want to steamroll a teacher and destroy their careers when they don’t fit the saintly virtues that you yourself could never attain?

      Have you read about the aftermath to this? Have you read how the school was turned into a media circus and the parents were called in to have an “emergency” meeting with the principal? Do you think anyone benefits from this? Did you read that the parents were not offended because, after speaking to their own children, they learned this was not the only thing they learned about slavery?

      How are you any better than Aziza Harding with your self-righteous indignation and thick-headed disregard for the people’s livelihoods?





  6. Hello!!! This message is coming from the “stupid” student teacher that you wrote about awhile ago. You are totally entitled to your opinion (I mean this is AMERICA) but your blatant disrespect by calling me out of my name, I found to be a bit troubling. If you check my remarks I surly didn’t call my teacher out of her name nor do I think she is a terrible teacher. I just think she had a major lapse of judgement when it came to assigning slavery math as homework. As for being ‘media hungry’ yep..that definitely WAS NOT my intention when speaking to my professor about the matter. All I wanted was advice on how to engage in a meaningful conversation with the teacher about why I found the assignment problematic. And it also looks like you didn’t do your research WHAT SO EVER. For one if you read any of the articles my Professor clear as day states that he alerted the media (with out any clear warning to me) and in a way hung me out to dry. When speaking with NY1 I expressed my concern over the assignment and ALSO noted that I was never able to speak to the teacher because she was out of town when this whole issue took place. I’m assuming you really didn’t take much time to READ. So when someone found your rant and passed it onto to read I was taken aback by your mean spirited words. “Not to worry, I am sure there are a few charter schools who would love to hire you for three years before spitting you out like bubble gum that has lost its flavor. Then maybe you can get a taste of how it feels to be on the receiving end of the process you help set in motion on others.”–> Well let me assure you I have no intentions of being a teacher and was student teachers only to earn some ex cash while doing my graduate studies. But I do hope that some good will come of this and that I actually use my words and actions for good..unlike you. It just looks like you have your own agenda to push and you accomplished it. I never wanted media attention, I don’t crave it and don’t care for it and to see people like you who twist the truth well… I guess that just comes with this whole ridiculous story coming out.

    • Hello there yourself and thanks for stopping by. Allow me to address your remarks:

      a) Your name was already in the papers. Don’t blame me for “calling you out of your name” since it is already plastered out there for everyone to see. Don’t want your name in the papers? Don’t talk to the media. It is as simple as that.

      b) While your actions were, in my opinion, foolish, I never called you stupid. That would be too vicious even for me. Please quote the place where I called you stupid.

      c) Your cooperating teacher is out of town. I am sure you don’t have his/her email, phone number or any other method of contacting them in the year 2013.

      d) While your professor certainly helped create a firestorm, you played a role in this fiasco as well. You showed him the handout. You did obviously did not try to find out what was behind the handout or if there just might have been a decent explanation for such a handout. How much effort did you make to contact your teacher? Obviously not a whole heck of a lot. You said yourself your cooperating teacher was good. Why not give her/him the benefit of the doubt before you go showing it to anyone?

      e) Your comments to the media were self-serving. After you create a media firestorm, you say how you want this to be a learning experience. You say you want kids to learn how horrible slavery was. According to the parents, their children DID learn this. Again, did you ever bother to get a full picture of what the students actually learned before you made your self-serving comments.

      f) Wow, so you don’t even want to be a teacher. Thank you for demeaning the profession that me, your mentor and millions of other people make their life’s work. I guess that says it all, does it not?

      g) Despite what you might think, I appreciate you stopping by and leaving your comments. I have seen teachers destroyed over things like this. I have seen people lose their livelihoods over an honest mistake. I have seen teachers pilloried and scapegoated in the media because of things “twisted out of context”, as you are so fond of saying. That is what the media does. They twist EVERYTHING out of context.

      Do you know what it is like to be stripped of your identity, have to sell your house, have to see your kids go hungry all because a hypocritical system wanted to jump down your throat? Meanwhile, the people that do the real damage to our system: the administrators and political leaders who close schools and mismanage resources, not only get off scot free but actually get to move up in the system?

      Of course you did not know these things. Of course you did not know the risk YOUR actions might pose to another human being. Now you do and, hopefully, you take it as a learning experience.

  7. a- “hare-brained educationists”

    b- “Either Harding and McIliwain are really bad or really stupid people.”

    c- Oh because someone really wants to receive a phone call or email about work when they’re on vacation in another country.

    d- It seems like you’re basing a lot on the assumption that Aziza went to Professor McIiwain as a means of finding a way to create some sort of media frenzy. You could call into question what the professor is teaching, his lifetime body of work, and maybe, just maybe, that she went to him for advise on how to approach the situation. Furthermore, what besides ignorance could have been behind the premise for that worksheet? If a male teacher wrote a math problem for International Women’s day that read “14 girls were raped in Nepal. 3 girls were raped in West Africa. 2 girls were raped and killed in New Dehli. How many living girls were raped?”, how would you feel?

    e- How are the children learning how terrible slavery is if they are the ones creating questions like this? Furthermore, how are parents confirming that something was learned when things like that worksheet were created? That is not learning in the spirit of inclusion, but learning just how superior one group is over another.

    f- I missed the part where Aziza demeaned your profession. Meanwhile teachers are molesting students, calling them racial slurs, and having 8 year olds arrested. But not wanting to be a teacher is demeaning. Okay.

    g- Irony.

  8. Pingback: WHEN NON-EDUCATORS GET INVOLVED | Assailed Teacher

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