'Apologies' for Maya Angelou math worksheet that asked who 'sexually abused' the poet
Worksheet creator expresses 'regret' to Parents Defending Education
You can read our dispatch at Parents Defending Education at this link.
Monday evening, Missouri resident Conor Martin posted a message on Twitter with the photo of math homework that his wife had gotten from a student she was tutoring in the Tory R-3 School District outside Troy, Mo., asking if Nobel Laureate poet Maya Angelou was “sexually abused by her mother’s” boyfriend, brother or father.
Another question asked whether the writer worked as a “pimp, prostitute” and bookie, “Drug Dealer” or “Night Club Dancer” to support her son as a single mother.
By Tuesday afternoon, the tweet had been shared about 1,500 times around the globe.
Audrey Henebry, community relations director in the school district, also called Lincoln County R-III School District, said the worksheet was “not in line with approved curriculum” and the school district expressed its “most sincere apologies for any offense that this has caused.”
“Over the extended weekend, an assignment from a school in the LCR3 District was brought to the attention of our building and district leadership that included content that is not in line with approved curriculum. We offer our most sincere apologies for any offense that this has caused, and want to assure our community that this content does not align with the beliefs or mission of the Lincoln County R-III School District. Unfortunately, the assignment originated from a website that allows teachers around the world to share educational resources. At this time, it has been removed from the course and steps are being taken to ensure that it is not used in the future.”
How that worksheet got to a student’s hands in Missouri speaks volumes about the unfettered and rogue way that controversial teaching material can get into classrooms, beyond the eyes of state curriculum designers. In our work at Parents Defending Education, we investigated the source for the worksheet.
The worksheet designer, Clint Clark, 36, told me that he created the worksheet some years ago — between 2010 and 2012, he can’t remember precisely when — for a course he was teaching at Columbus International High School on human trafficking. He published it through a business he started, 21st Century Math Projects. Clark, now the chief executive of Clark Creative Education, which distributes teaching documents, said that, out of the context of the classroom in which he was teaching, the worksheet didn’t work.
"I do regret that I put it online,” he said. “The bluntness of the language and the coarseness of the language doesn’t work.”
He spoke about his intention. “It was on our heart how do we talk to kids affected by trafficking. We talked to survivors and a lady trafficked out of her own home talked about deglamorizing words like ‘pimp.’” He used the worksheet of his course on human trafficking and his Algebra 1 class. He calls himself an “Engaging Curriculum Ninja” in his email signature.
“Maya Angelou has an incredibly powerful life story,” he said, the sexual abuse she experienced as a child impacting her writing deeply. “How do you share and celebrate the life that she lived without talking about that?”
In the worksheet, titled Question No. 3 asked:
y = x + 2
3x + 6y = 12
Maya Angelou was sexually abused by her mother’s ________ at age 8, which shaped her career choices and motivation for writing.
a. (0, 2) boyfriend
b. (4, 6) brother
c. (-3, -1) father
Question No. 5 asked:
x = y - 1
y = -4x + 21
Trying to support her son as a single mother, she worked as a pimp, prostitute and _______.
a. (-3, -2) Bookie
b. (9, 10) Drug Dealer
c. (4, 5) Night Club Dancer
Education expert Max Eden, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote that the homework reinforces the call by many parents and policymakers to pass legislation beefing up curriculum and academic transparency in school systems. He wrote, “Quite a bit of what teachers put in front of students is basically trash they pull from Google/Pinterest/Teachers-Pay-Teachers. #AcademicTransparency would expose this.”
Add to that platforms like YouTube, where last year, for example, Bailey’s Elementary School officials in Fairfax County Public Schools shared the very partisan and activist “Woke Kindergarten” YouTube channel among its “resources” for parents and children.
Martin, the Missouri Twitter user, posted a petition, stating, “Conversations of a sexual nature are meant to be had between parents and their children. The school district and it's staff going behind the backs of parents and exposing children to sexually explicit content is reprehensible.”
It continued: ”We believe promoting any normalization of this behavior is grounds for faculty, staff, volunteers, and elected officials to be immediately removed from their position.”
The petition ended, ”We stand firmly with Lincoln County parents and children, and oppose any promotion and normalization of sexual activities in our schools.”
The worksheet designer, Clark, agreed.
He changed the worksheet to to delete the reference to Angelou being “sexual abused” and now asks:
“After suffering from childhood abuse, Angelou became mute for ______ years.”
The new worksheet has the caveat: “CAUTION: Mature content is integral to her biography. This is not suggested as homework and if you choose to use it, should be in your classroom where you can control the conversation.”
But parents would likely argue that even this isn’t good enough because it’s more subterfuge to “control the conversation” away from parents.
Asra Q. Nomani is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal. She is vice president of strategy and investigations at Parents Defending Education. She can be reached at email@example.com.