School administrators at Pennridge High School in Perkasie, PA, are dealing with sharp backlash from parents who were shocked to discover that a recent math assignment incorporated details of poet laureate Maya Angelou’s childhood sexual abuse into some of its questions.
The math worksheet in question, part of an open-source collection of homework problems for teachers to use, required students to solve basic algebra questions in order to piece together a narrative description of Angelou’s life.
“Solve each system of equation by substitution,” the sheet instructs. “The word or phrase next to the equivalent solution will complete the statement correctly.”
While most of the sheet’s questions were fairly innocuous descriptions of Angelou’s works and achievements, the third multiple choice question focused specifically on Angelou being molested by her mother’s boyfriend as a child. Depending on how students went about answering the question—say by choosing to plug in all of the possible answers given in order to make the equations work—they also would have been forced to consider the prospects of Angelou also being abused by her uncle or grandfather.
A later question on the sheet focused on Angelou’s past as a sex worker:
To be fair, the correct answers to these questions are all, in fact, things that are true about Maya Angelou’s life that she wrote about while alive, but parents questioned the appropriateness of the subject matter considering the age of the students and the fact that, you know, this was algebra homework.
After receiving a number of complaints from parents, Pennridge Superintendent Jacqueline Rattigan penned a public statement explaining where the assignment came from and emphasizing that it was not a part of the school district’s approved curriculum. While the teacher who assigned the worksheet has not been named, Rattigan insisted that something like this wouldn’t happen again.
“We have received a number of complaints from parents and members of the community regarding a recent high school math homework assignment which contained adult content without a proper context,” Rattigan said. “We apologize to anyone who was offended by the content of the assignment and have taken steps to avoid such occurrences in the future.”