A homework assignment from a Rome school has sparked a heated debate on social media. Do parents have a legitimate beef, or is this an over-reaction to some creativity by a teacher?

Now that we're all squarely living in the age of social media, conversations that might have involved two people at the grocery store, can now involve hundreds in just a few hours on Facebook. Sometimes, attention is drawn to a deserving issue, and sometimes, misunderstandings and half-stories get blown out of proportion.

The math problem was assigned to students at Bellamy Elementary School in Rome. Here's the question:

"George mixed some different substances together to give to his mean old grandma. He mixed 11.833 grams of windshield washer fluid, 14.091 grams of bleach, and 8.571 grams of detergent. He made six doses (spoonfuls) of "medicine". 

a) How much did he make in all. Round each to the nearest tenth and then find the sum. 

b) Find the ACTUAL amount of medicine mixed by George. What is the difference between the actual and estimated amount?"

The original poster says that as a grandmother, she was "VERY offended" by the questions. Commenters on Facebook who shared her point of view suggested the State Education Department be contacted, or the police.

Astute commenters pointed out that the question is straight out of a plot from a Roald Dahl book, 'George's Marvellous Medicine', where, according to Wikipedia, "George's maternal grandmother bosses him around and bullies him. To punish her for her regular abuse, George decides to make a magic medicine to replace her old one. He collects a variety of ingredients from around the family farm including deodorant and shampoo from the bathroom, floor polish from the laundry room, horseradish sauce and gin from the kitchen, animal medicines, engine oil and anti-freeze from the garage, and brown paint to mimic the colour of the original medicine." Spoiler alert: Grandma doesn't die, but she does get very tall. 

In case this particular book doesn't ring a bell, Dahl also wrote Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

Another grandma, Peggy Beasock, says her granddaughter is in the same class, and the class read the Roald Dahl book first, and the kids "love" their teacher.

So is this a case of people going a little overboard on social media without knowing the full context? Or are parents right to be upset? 

As a mom, my hat is off to the teacher that conceived this. It's a great way to get kids engaged in math, and it relates math to another part of the curriculum. Maybe it's time to lighten up just a teeny tiny bit.

Let me know what you think, email me at beth@lite987.com

We've reached out to Peter Blake, Rome Superintendent of Schools, for his comments. Here's what he tells us:

I don't have a lot of info on this as I am out of the district at a conference, but here is what I have gathered. It is a 5th grade question that is directly connected to a text that the students are reading in ELA. The text is by Roald Dahl entitled George's Marvelous Medicine. In the book, George attempts to make a medicine for his mean old grandma to make her grow taller. The staff were attempting to connect the ELA work with the math work (which is appropriate and encouraged for all teachers). The problem is, most people don't have the background context of the book to understand the innocence of the question. On the surface, the question can be deemed alarming and insensitive. In context of the classroom and what the kids were learning in totality, the question connects their units of study well.

 


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