Tag Archives: Charlton McIlwain



There are more layers to the student-generated slavery math questions. This site is more popular than I thought because Aziza Harding, the student-teacher from P.S. 59, as well as some of her well-wishers from NYU have found their way over here.

Taken together, their responses paint a telling picture. Let’s start with the first comment from an NYU email address. This person’s moniker is “GONNA KILL YOUR ASS”:


The irony is that I am the one that needs to be reported when they are the person threatening to “kill my ass”. How dare a teacher exercise free speech?

But “GONNA KILL YOUR ASS” goes further, this time using a handle called “WATCH OUT, SERIOUSLY”:


Does this mean that I should be worried because I am now posting “one more thing” about this issue? What, exactly, is so “courageous” about putting nothing on the line and having nothing to risk? This person obviously does not know the meaning of courage.

What is more, and what is a common theme for all the rest of the responses, is the anti-teacher sentiment expressed. Every graduate student apparently has  a “theory” about “school math teachers being absolutely brain dead!” I guess that would hurt my feelings if I was a math teacher.

And then Ms. Harding responded herself:

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.

To which I responded:

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.

And the hits just keep on coming, this time from another NYU email:

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.

Despite what this person or Ms. Harding might think, I never called anyone “stupid”. At the same time, the comments from Ms. Harding’s supporters do not speak well for her. Who would want their cause to be defended by people who threaten to kill someone else over the internet?

You can’t have it both ways. If this issue was so important, then why not text or email the teacher? I have texted and emailed people on vacation if the issue was important enough. If it is not so important, then it could wait.

The funny thing is that these comments are pressing me to defend the worksheet, something I never did. I acknowledged that the worksheet itself was foolish. My contention is that: a) the teachers should not be fired for this and b) Ms. Harding’s and Mr. McIlwain’s actions did nothing to improve the situation.

Since the person above “missed the part” where Ms. Harding disrespected the teaching profession, here it is again:

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.

I do not know exactly how this works, since student-teachers are usually not paid. It is sad that the person who left this reply does not see how Ms. Harding’s quote above is a disrespect to the teaching profession, especially in light of her actions. It is the same type of disrespect shown by Teach for America, who use teaching as a stepping stone. More importantly, it is a disrespect to the students who are subjected to an inexperienced teacher with no desire to improve or dedicate themselves to them. Furthermore, Ms. Harding’s actions not only helped endanger the careers of two teachers, it turned the school into a media circus. I still fail to see who won as a result.

Perhaps the students wrote such offensive questions because they were 9-years-old. This person is expecting 4th graders to have a nuanced or sophisticated view of  history. Children, by and large, lack empathy in general. The ham-fisted questions they created are not necessarily a reflection of everything they learned about slavery. Parents asked their children about what they learned and were satisfied with the answers. What is the problem?

However, the final part of what the person said above says all that we need to know about their perspective. “Meanwhile teachers are molesting students, calling them racial slurs, and having 8 year olds arrested. But not wanting to be a teacher is demeaning.”

Wow, does it get more disgusting than that? Of course Ms. Harding would not want to sully her hands on a profession whose practitioners are nothing more than child molesters, racists and supporters of the school-to-prison pipeline. The only thing teaching is good for is to make some “extra cash”.

Everything is very clear now. Why would people who hate teachers so much care one iota about potentially getting one of them fired? These people are scum anyway.

I remember I knew everything when I was a grad student as well. If people disagreed with me it was because they were wrong, not because someone could possibly see things differently. Being ensconced in books and academia has a way of numbing one to the real world. Being young and ensconced in academia has a way of simplifying one’s opinions. What is wrong is wrong and what is right is right. Everything is absolute and the standard used comes from books and professors.

And, if in our pursuit of doing right some people get hurt then “thems the breaks”, right? After all, what is a few measly careers when students are writing stupid questions? This is an injustice, a “human rights” issue even, and thank goodness the folks at NYU are here to call attention to it.

Out of curiosity, since P.S. 59 is in Williamsburg, where has NYU been for the past 10 years when Pharaoh Bloomberg has been pushing minorities out of the city through gentrification and stop-and-frisk? I forgot, NYU is one of the biggest gentrifiers out there. They are really nothing more than a real estate company that collects (overpriced) tuition for an education than can easily be had through the CUNY system. It is really no wonder that such an institution produces people so out of touch with reality and so in love with their own sense of justice.

Worry about a bunch of questions created by 4th-graders if you wish, those of us who actually care about public education will be at the protests against school closings, charterings and standardized testing. Those of us who actually have to work for a living, without mommy and daddy paying our ways, understand that jeopardizing someone’s career is not something you do on the fly because we are “offended”. Those of us with rent, bills, mortgages, children and taxes understand how valuable a job is to come by in 2013. Playing games with a teacher’s career is something to be done with a heavy heart when children are actually being abused.

It is telling that none of Ms. Harding’s defenders ever claimed that the school was better off for what her and her professor did. All they have are her good intentions. A perfect defense for a bunch of people who live in their own minds and not the real world.



Yesterday I criticized how the whole slavery math problem situation at P.S. 59 was handled. Although the teachers involved did not make the best decisions, the worst decisions of all were made by student teacher Aziza Harding and NYU Professor Charlton McIlvain.

Harding did not bother to speak to her cooperating teacher about the matter. McIlvain rang the alarm bells by calling the media. Indeed, there might have been more sinister motives behind what either McIlvain or Harding did. Hopefully time will reveal if these people were motivated by publicity or just mere stupidity.

Yet, I must give credit to P.S. 59’s principal Adele Schroeter. She called in the parents in an attempt to provide an open forum on the matter. The parents, for their part, defended their children’s 4th-grade teacher, Jane Youn.

The parents exercised loads more common sense than Harding or McIlvain. While the parents did not believe that the homework sheet was appropriate, they also recognized that the sheet did not represent everything their children had learned about slavery in Ms. Youn’s class. They fiercely defended their children’s teacher, recognizing her skill and hard work on behalf of their children. The parents saw this for what it was: a mistake from which they could learn.

Notice how the parents are not calling for the DOE to take “disciplinary action”. Notice how they are not calling for anyone’s head on a plate. Notice how they were able to communicate with their children about what they learned in class instead of jumping to rash conclusions.

My hats off to the parents of P.S. 59.

This story highlights an interesting point about Bloomberg’s Department of Education. One of Bloomberg’s first changes, through his puppet Panel for Educational Policy, was to hire so-called “Parent Coordinators” for each school. Ostensibly, these Parent Coordinators were supposed to be liaisons between parents and their schools. Instead, they turned out to be people whose jobs it is to tell parents only the things the administration wants parents to know. Parents are not encouraged to bring their concerns to the Parent Coordinators. Even if they do, it is unlikely that those concerns go any further.

The Parent Coordinator position, along with the replacement of local school boards with a centralized PEP answerable only to Bloomberg, effectively shut parents out of any say over how their children get educated. This has allowed Bloomberg a free hand to close schools, fire teachers and hollow out enrichment programs. He made sure to keep the parents at arms’ length before embarking on his destruction of the city’s schools.

We see what happened at P.S. 59 when parents got involved. Hopefully, their defense of their children’s teacher will make the DOE think twice about taking any disciplinary measures against her.

Parental involvement is the single greatest antidote to Bloomberg’s destructive educational policies.

This lesson should be heeded by our union. For the past 10 years, they have kissed up to the Bloomberg machine in hopes of getting some scraps. The UFT has been the puppy dogs at Bloomberg’s dinner table, anxiously awaiting a morsel to fall from his plate and grateful for every bit they get. Where has it gotten us?

The union must shift alliances away from centralized mayoral control and towards decentralized community control. The union must advocate for parents to be partners, not onlookers, in the education of their children.

We know why the union has refused to take this type of stance. They fear helping parents gain too much of a voice will usurp their own seats at the table. How much smaller can the seat at the table get as it is? 10 years of mayoral control have reduced our seat to a mere stool, one with wobbly legs at that.

Only the community and only the parents can help teachers restore their seat at the table and ensure educational integrity for our children.

The actions of the parents of P.S. 59 is a microcosm of this fact. Their advocacy has strengthened the position of an embattled teacher. It has also ensured a measure of integrity in their children’s education by double-checking what they learned about slavery and defending a strong teacher.

Unity take heed: this is where your future lies.


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.