Saturday, January 7, 2012

When I think of 3rd grade math, the first three words that come to mind are "slaves," "beatings," and "cotton..."

Maybe I shouldn’t have introduced the Curmie Award, because now everybody seems to want one. I was about 80% done with another essay—about a situation that would have been Curmie-worthy had I seen the story last year, when the most significant events occurred—when I read this story about homework given to 3rd graders at Beaver Ridge Elementary School in Norcross, GA.

Here’s a math question: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” Here’s another: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” And other: “Frederick had 6 baskets full of cotton. If each basket held 5 pounds, how many pounds did he have all together?”

OK, really? Slaves? Beatings? Cotton? WTF? Who wrote these questions, David Duke?

Parents, not surprisingly, are more than a little irked. Christopher Braxton is one such father: “It kind of blew me away. Do you see what I see? Do you really see what I see? He's not answering this question.” Another father, Terrance Barnett, makes the obvious-to-anyone-with-an-IQ-above-room-temperature point that “Something like this shouldn't be imbedded into a kid of the third, fourth, fifth, any grade. I'm having to explain to my 8-year-old why slavery or slaves or beatings are in a math problem. That hurts.”

School spokesperson Sloan Roach had the unenviable task of justifying such idiocy. She did the best she could: “In this one, the teachers were trying to do a cross-curricular activity.” Uh huh… “We understand that there are concerns about these questions and we agree that these questions were not appropriate.” No kidding?

According to Kerry Kavanaugh of WSB-TV, the principal’s (or vice principal’s) response was to collect the assignments and shred them, then to “work with the teachers to develop more appropriate questions, and [school officials] say they’ll do a better job of reviewing them before they go home with students.”

Well, shredding those papers is the right call. But look around. Budget cuts across the country have led to layoffs of hundreds of thousands of teachers, some of them, I’m willing to bet, good ones. If you’ve got some (the news reports all use the plural, “teachers”) so transcendently stupid as to believe there’s any excuse for these questions, “working with them” isn’t the answer. Fire their asses, hire someone with a brain, and then let those people teach.

The solution isn’t to monitor homework assignments. It’s to hire faculty whose homework assignments you don’t have to police. “Working with” a teacher is appropriate if s/he does over-reacts to a stimulus in the classroom and crosses the line a little. Or if s/he develops a reputation, deserved or not, for favoritism. Or if s/he assigns homework that’s either too difficult or insufficiently challenging. But there is no cure for stupid.

It’s probably true that there isn’t a legal rationale for breaking these teachers’ contracts right now, but the integrity of the school really is at stake if there isn’t a clear signal that such assignments are a quantum step or two beyond “inappropriate.” The trouble is, someone thought these questions were OK for 8-year-olds. That same person is going to be making other decisions that require sensitivity, tact, and common sense. Oh, happy day.

Or, perhaps, there could be new homework questions: If a teacher makes $36,000 a year on a 9-month contract, how much money does the school district save if they fire her after four months? If a school principal makes $100,000 a year and doesn’t have the brains or the courage to eliminate idiots on the faculty, how much money will the school district waste on this jackass over five years? If a school has 200 3rd graders, and the parents of 5% of those students sue the school for a million dollars apiece, how much money does the district stand to lose if there’s no settlement?

Enquiring minds want to know.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the teachers' union is the biggest obstacle to the common sense approach of firing the incompetents and hiring competent teachers. CW