Some parents of children at a Manhattan grade school are standing up for a teacher who created a controversial homework assignment that used questions about slavery to teach math. NY1 education reporter Lindsey Christ first reported on the story exclusively Thursday night and filed the following follow-up report Friday.
Parents at P.S. 59 said Friday that everyone hopes their child is assigned to Jane Youn's class for the fourth grade.
"There are no words to express, as a parent, how amazing this teacher is," said the mother of a child currently in Youn's class.
"She's a really, really good teacher," said Laura O'Brien, a fourth-grade student in Youn's class. "She teaches us really smart things, and she's really nice."
But in January, Youn's students were given homework using questions about dead slaves on a ship and other slaves being beaten to practice subtraction, addition and multiplication.
Students wrote the questions themselves. The teacher told them to use what they'd learned about slavery in social studies class.
"Sometimes, she gives us problems based on a topic, and we have to write a problem, and she chooses some of them to put for homework the next night," O'Brien said.
The disturbing math problems came to light only after a student teacher told NY1 she'd recently refused to distribute the homework to another fourth-grade class.
Longtime principal Adele Schroeter first learned about the worksheet Thursday morning, when NY1 showed her the assignment. She said it was inappropriate and unacceptable.
As reporters and cameras descended on the school Friday, Schroeter stood outside, helping students and speaking with parents.
All parents were invited to speak themselves at a morning meeting about the situation and the issues it raised.
"She's a true professional," said Chris O'Brien the parent of a student currently in Youn's class. "She's very grounded. She's very good at what she does."
The parents whose children wrote the word problems and added up the whippings stood up for the teacher.
"When you get a good teacher, you want to keep hold of a good teacher," said one parent. "And if there is anything that we can do as parents to shift this attention away from her, we will do our best."
One of the aspects of the story many find the most surprising is that no parents spoke up at the time. The parents said that's because they were confident their children were being taught much more about the horrors of slavery than was included in the simple math problems.
"It was the kids creating lessons from this very important subject matter that they'd been working on for quite some time," Chris O'Brien said.
"We spoke to our child, and they explained to us that this was taken from the books that they'd been learning from," said another parent.
But now, parents said they should have realized the homework might not be appropriate for their kids.
"There's always an opportunity to learn from mistakes, and that's what we all are going to work towards as partners in this school," Chris O'Brien said. "That's what we're focused on."
Although parents and the principal said their immediate focus has been helping the children and teacher get through all the media attention, they hope everyone will come out of the incident learning some important lessons.