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Ten most contentious homework ever

By Nailantei Norari
Wednesday, October 14th, 2020
Pupils in class. Photo/Courtesy
In summary

Since the education sector is all about enlightenment, one would think that it would be free from controversy. Takeaway class assignments have also come under close scrutiny, with parents complaining of just how costly, technical and hard some home projects given to their children are. Nailantei Norari lists a few of the most controversial assignments handed to students.

1. Slavery problem

“If Frederick got two beatings per day, how many beatings did he get in one week?” and “Each tree had 56 oranges.

If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?” These were some questions some third graders in Georgia, received as part of their math assignment.

Parents protested with one parent explaining that their child was asking about slaves and beatings, yet they were not ready to have the discussion with an eight-year-old, with others wanting to transfer their children from the school.

The two teachers who had given out the assignment were fired after a news outlet took up the story and more national outrage poured in.

2. Native American 

“What happened after Chief Short Cake died?” a seemingly harmless high school algebra puzzle asked.

But once the problems were solved, the answer to this question, “Squawburyshortcake” caused quite the stir among a few parents in Minocqua, Wisconsin.

Although the term squaw refers to woman in Native American Algonquian languages, the word is often used to demean Native American women and equate them to nothing more than sexual objects to be desired by men.

Once confronted with the controversy, the teacher was contrite and offered to go home for a day without pay as a way of taking full responsibility for his action. The school was satisfied with this self-imposed punishment.

3. Pro-Nazi essay

In 2013, a high school teacher in Albany, New York, assigned her students a persuasive writing essay with the prompt: “You must argue that Jews are evil and use solid rationale from government propaganda to convince me of your loyalty to the Third Reich!”

A third of her students argued that it was not a debatable issue and refused to complete the assignment.

The teacher and her supervisor had to do a public apology for being so insensitive.

The school board also had to invite the Anti-Defamation League to run sensitivity programmes at the school.

4. Serial killer project

A teacher in an Australian high school teaching forensic psychology asked the class to do a project on serial killers.

He had a list of possible project the students could pick that included creating a cartoon illustrating how a serial killer would murder someone, writing a poem about a serial killer, putting together a children’s book that would teach children about serial killers, make up a serial killer board game, and draw a floor plan of a serial killer’s dream house.

Parents protested and the principal banned the project from the curriculum arguing that despite the serial killer popular culture, it would not add value to the students.

5. Beer brewing 

A high school biology teacher in Colorado, US, gave his students a beer brewing assignment despite the students being below the minimum drinking age of 21.

They brew beer in class and were taxed with visiting nearby breweries and vodka fermentation plants to learn more.

Parents protested that this might trigger the onset of early drinking, especially with families with a history of chronic alcoholism. The school board reviewed the assignment and pulled it off the curriculum.

6. 9/11 last letter

In 2013, a teacher in Texas asked her students to pretend they were trapped in one of the towers or planes involved in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack and write a letter to an imagined loved one or friend as they faced death.

Parents of the students were understandably upset when they found out about the assignment.

They claimed the teacher had gone too far by requiring their children to write what amounted to a 9/11 suicide note. The school board apologised and promised to be more sensitive.

7. Stomp on Jesus 

An intercultural communications professor at Florida Atlantic University read instructions from a class textbook that instructed students to write the word Jesus on a piece of paper, throw the paper on the ground and stomp on it. Many students refused to stomp on the paper.

As the story spread, the teacher was pulled from class for a while. He did keep his job though.

8. Live sex toy use 

In a university in Illinois, US, Professor John Bailey’s human sexuality course was one of the most popular classes as the course was well-known for offering unique experiences to students, such as a question-and-answer period with a group of swingers.

One evening in 2011, students were invited back to the classroom to watch a naked woman perform on herself with sex toys.

Earlier in the week, students were warned that the act would be graphic. Those who chose not to attend were not penalised.

The university administration stepped in with complaints that the exercise was inappropriate and unnecessary. 

9.  Chicken beheading as art

In 2013 in Canada, a student protesting the food production industry beheaded a live chicken as part of his art project.

He further plucked the chicken’s feathers and stuffed it into a cooking pot. Students protested the violent nature of the project with the student defending himself and citing the knowledge gap that people did not know how food got onto their plate.

Interestingly enough, the lecturer received more criticism and was even suspended as the board argued that he knew of the project and could have stopped it before it traumatized the entire class.

10. Vote for Obama 

In 2012, Sharon Sweet, an associate professor of mathematics at Brevard Community College in Florida, forced her students to sign pledges that they would vote for Barack Obama in the upcoming presidential election.

After being handed a sheet of paper that read “I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket,” each student was asked to sign his or her name at the bottom.

Once word got out, the teacher was fired for creating a hostile learning environment for students and pushing her political beliefs on them.

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