Maya Angelo on a Math Test


Questions surrounding the sexual abuse of Maya Angelou made their way into an algebra class in a Bucks County, PA high school this week. The worksheet was downloaded from a website that allows teachers to share educational resources.  See complete worksheet here. The questions, part of a homework assignment, read:


Students had just finished reading  Caged Bird, originally published in 1969. This particular piece of Angelou’s work is often an assigned reading in high schools, and often attacked for its content, dealing with rape, incest, and racism. With context and perhaps in an English Literature class the questions may not seem overly offensive or inappropriate. But given the context of an algebra class this may be out of line.

After receiving phone calls from concerned parents and community members, the superintendent, Jacqueline Rattigan at Pennridge High School in Peraskie, PA apologize “to anyone who was offended by the content of the assignment and have taken steps to avoid such occurrences in the future.”

Many teachers share and download materials from the Internet, which in and of itself is also not a bad thing. Some educators suggest the questions can be answered without completing the formula, thus making them ineffective. Some say this was a mistake on the teacher’s part for not reviewing questions on the worksheet, or more seriously- not seeing how these questions would be considered offensive and inappropriate. Or is this a   case of institutional racism?

Angelou once told the Associated Press, “It speaks about surviving, and it really doesn’t make ogres of many people. I was shocked to find there were people who really wanted it banned, and I still believe people who are against the book have never read the book.”

What would Angelou think of this controversy? Would she be upset or offended by the trivializing of her life in a high school algebra test? Or would she be pleased her life and work were being used in a high school algebra test? My guess is, either way, she might be pleased there’s a discussion about it at all.

These are my reflections for today.

Author: Meg White

I am a lifelong educator and I hope to use this blog to reflect on what's happening in public education. These are my musings, opinions, and reflections. If you learn from them, good for us. Ignorance is no excuse. I have co-authored a book, "Questioning Assumptions and Challenging Perceptions: Becoming an Effective Teacher in Urban Environments" (available on amazon)

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