Remember the story of the D.C. charter school teacher who was fired for using those strange, violent math problems? (The same ones our readers pretty much unanimously thought were hilarious, creative and would excite kids to do math.) Well, the owner of the site that the teacher downloaded the problems from has decided to take all of his worksheets down as a result of the firing. I’ve copied and pasted the letter on the front page of Homeschooling-Paradise.com below, in case the whole site gets deleted and its no longer available for viewing.
The site admin, Kris, gives a very interesting take on why he created the math problems using such violent imagery and what he thinks about violence in American culture. He says he asked other teachers in Singapore and Malaysia to proof the problems before uploading them and they all thought they were “so funny that their kids were hooked on them.” He makes a case for translating the violence found in American television shows and video games into school work, and says that he became hooked on reading after finding horror books as a child, adding, “I never became a serial killer or a sadist after reading all those horror and fantasy books. I have moved on from horror books and have practically read every genre you will find in your local bookstore. I am a happily married, well-adjusted father of twins who loves children and is deeply concerned about children’s education.”
Fascinating. Give it a read, then let me know what you think:
I went on vacation for the past 3 days and when I came back home I found that the number of visitors to my website skyrocketed from about 1 thousand visitors a day to over 20 thousand a day.
I was ecstatic! But when I dug deeper into my seeming good fortune, I realized to my horror that it was all due to a catastrophe. A poor teacher was fired from a Washington, DC charter school because she downloaded math worksheets from my website and that was sensationalized by the news. The worksheets contained violence.
Now the problem (or misunderstanding) is a cultural one. I am not an American. In fact, I was born in Singapore, studied up to high school there and later went to Canada and got my degree there. I do have friends from the US and Canada who contribute to my website but the math worksheets are solely my own creation.
I started my homeschooling website to provide free educational resources for parents and teachers. I knew that children hated math and reading.
So I did a lot of thinking. First of all children would rather watch violent cartoons, or play violent computer games than do a math worksheet. What I saw was that cartoons and computer games contain graphic violence (with blood too, yes) – there are lots of hitting and bashing in children’s cartoons. And kids love them. Ben 10, Tom and Jerry are some examples.
The Harry Potter novels that became world famous has torture, murders, blood and lots of action and violence. JK Rowling has made millions of kids who hated reading to start to be hooked on reading. My twins finished reading her books when they were 8 years old, and they read the whole series at least 10 times. That was how much they loved it.
I knew that she had the right idea. That was why my math problems contain action and violence. However, the problems are not racially insulting as some news channels say. In fact, one of the questions contains Americans and Indians (I am an Indian and that is just poking fun at myself.) And the jokes about bald men are again my way of poking fun at myself for I am bald. My kids and the students I teach love my math problems and found it hilarious that I always made fun of myself.
In fact, before I even began uploading these math questions, I asked many teachers and parents in both Singapore and Malaysia to comment about them. None of them said that they were too violent or insulting to anyone. In fact they said that the problems were so funny that their kids were hooked on them.
I, an Asian, assumed by watching Western cartoons and reading Western novels that Western parents would feel the same. And in Singapore third graders (Primary 3) are 9 years old, not 8, and they are already reading Goosebumps and the wildly popular Mr. Midnight novels by a Singapore author) at that age.
Most of the feedback I received from parents and teachers from all over the world was also positive except for a few angry ones but those were so rare that I thought that it wasn’t that bad. I answered everyone who wrote negative comments to me positively explaining in detail why my math problems contained violence.
Americans, please remember that you are the ones everyone else in the world looks up to and aspires to be. And the only way we get to know about your culture is through what your mass media and books give us from Tom and Jerry and Ben 10 violence for kids to CSI for adults on TV.
I can write a whole list of books, movies and cartoons that are violent and that is how I became hooked on reading. I used to read horror books and fantasy books voraciously even at the tender age of 8 up to 12 hours a day. Reading those books helped me a lot in improving my English so much so that I was reading Dickens, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and Hugo as a young teenager – all on my own and loving it so much that I read some of them such as “The Brothers Karamazov”, “Les Miserables” and “Dombey and Son” at least 5 times.
In fact, it is because I started getting interested in horror books as a child that now I am an avid reader. I read obsessively every day and I read about 3 books a week. And I love just about every genre.
I never became a serial killer or a sadist after reading all those horror and fantasy books. I have moved on from horror books and have practically read every genre you will find in your local bookstore.
I am a happily married, well-adjusted father of twins who loves children and is deeply concerned about children’s education.
Using my life as a guide, I started my twins on Enid Blyton and later fantasy novels to get them hooked on reading. My daughter used to hate reading but I never gave up on her. I kept on experimenting until I found a genre that she loved. Now my twins who just only turned 10 have devoured original unabridged classics like The Lost World, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, and Treasure Island. They read on their own at least 4 hours a day.
Why did some of the word problems on my website contain violence. Millions of children all over the world are addicted to violent computer games, movies and cartoons. It was ruining their lives. I wanted these children to get into the reading habit and to love math by introducing what they love best, violence, into math problems and slowly get them hooked on reading and math. Once they were hooked on math and reading they would slowly gravitate toward education and away from wasteful computer games and TV. And then hopefully they would explore other genres such as the classics.
I was thinking out of the box but I felt that if I could help children get a proper education there would be so much less crime and poverty on earth.
I am sorry that a teacher in the US was fired for trying to be creative. Many teachers and parents know how hard it is to teach children nowadays with all the distractions out there. These teachers are looking for other ways to educate their students.
The news channels are sensationalizing this and making it worse than it seems to gain the maximum impact on their audience and increase their ratings. However, if you were to look at the comments section by the public that comes below the news articles, you will realize that most parents and teachers feel the same way as I do.
Here are some comments. Please look at the comments by those who actually read my worksheets. (The news article also mentions that a few months ago a teacher was fired for using slavery in her math problems. I totally agree that the firing of that teacher is justified. That is racist!)
And when I checked the forums out there, the majority of people understand that the teacher was really trying to help her students:
As a sign of support and respect for the poor teacher, I am taking down my website. She is right in the middle of a raging inferno. I do not want things to get worse for her.
I regret that some people who do not know how difficult it is to motivate kids to learn have made a brouhaha over this and gotten a well-meaning teacher fired.