When Cross-Curricular Lessons Go Wrong ... Really Wrong

By Liana Loewus — January 11, 2012 1 min read
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A Georgia elementary school has gotten a flurry of unflattering media attention over the last week, since 3rd graders took home a math assignment with questions about slave beatings and cotton-picking.

The worksheet, created by a 3rd grade teacher at the school, went home with four different classes. According to ABC News, one of the assigned word problems asked: “If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” Another read: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” A third question asked students how many baskets of cotton Frederick would have filled.

Outraged parents complained to administrators. The NAACP held a protest outside Beaver Ridge Elementary, prompting the principal, Jose DeJesus, to post a statement on the school’s website yesterday. DeJesus wrote that the 3rd graders had been studying famous Americans, including Frederick Douglass, who was born into slavery. “These particular questions were an attempt at incorporating some of what students had been discussing in social studies with their math activity.”

DeJesus also said he understands parents’ concerns and is investigating the matter. “While I encourage our teachers to create cross curricular lessons, my expectation is that those lessons be appropriate and provide true connection between the subject areas,” he wrote. “That did not occur in this case and we are working to ensure that this does not happen again and that this situation is handled appropriately.”

An Atlanta Journal Constitution article states that “the math sheet created at Beaver Ridge also failed to undergo a content review, officials said. Under district policy, the worksheet should have been reviewed before being handed out to students, but that process was not followed.”

The situation raises plenty of questions (including a variety that boil down to, “What in the world were those teachers thinking?”). But that last tidbit from the AJC led me to wonder: Do any schools really require teachers to have their worksheets reviewed by the district? Or is that a throwaway policy referred to only when such a problem arises? (As a teacher, I certainly never once submitted a worksheet or test I’d created for administrative review. And as other special ed teachers can attest, plenty of my materials were homegrown.)

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.