Offended 9 year old girl objects to math question about weight

October 17, 2019 • 11:45 am

This is one of those issues where I can sort of see a point, but in general think it’s also overblown. In fact, it was the subject of an NBC Today show post and tv segment. It turns out that a nine year old Utah girl named Rhythm Pacheco was asked to answer a math question in which the weights of various students (females) were compared. In particular, as you see below, it was a simple subtraction question, one that Rhythm answered but then expressed anger, saying she “wont right this its rood” (committing four errors in five words). Here’s her answer.

In the NBC video on the site, the hosts get all upset and see the question as sexist (or otherwise offensive).

Now Rhythm wrote a nice note to her teacher, and the teacher responded nicely (and corrected Rhythm’s writing in brown ink!:

Here’s a television report from a local station, featuring Rhythm’s mother Naomi. You can see where Rhythm gets her ideology:

This is one of the issues where I’m torn. I do see that the comparison of bodies among women has been harmful, leading to things like anorexia and making a lot of women feel bad about themselves because they don’t or can’t look like skinny runway models. I also understand that a lot of this attitude comes from men’s ranking of women that includes weight. But would the question have been okay if they compared boys’ weights?

Nevertheless, this looks like overkill to me, with the mom being overly sensitive and inculcating her daughter with that attitude. Yet at the same time I’m proud of the girl for standing up for herself and having the moxie to write the teacher.

What do you think? Women’s voices would be especially appreciated in the comments.

157 thoughts on “Offended 9 year old girl objects to math question about weight

  1. Oh my days. She should concentrate more on English. Having said that, it seems to me that what a female weighs is more heavily scrutinised than what a male does; and that women are categorised more negatively in this regard…

    1. It concerns me when 9 year olds are made to worry about political correctness, but it concerns me far more when they write like six year olds.

  2. I think most children would see this simply as a math problem. As a parent, my goal with my children is to focus on healthy eating and not weight. I believe there are many adults with weight/body acceptance issues that can trace it back to negative comments made about their body in childhood. The fact that this girl viewed this math question as a rude question focused on girls’ weight, seems to indicate that “weight” is something that is frequently discussed in her household.

    1. My sons would never pick up on this. My son’s do pick up on religious overtones in their education, that’s because their father has a Hitchens-like disposition towards religion.

      I’d chalk this one down to parentally endorsed offense.

      1. Well, I can tell, YOU were never a little girl! Girls don’t have to be taught by their parents that excess weight is bad. All they need to do is look around them, the messages are everywhere. And, if they missed it, their classmates will let them know. Haven’t you ever heard of “mean girls”?

        1. I was bullied constantly for being one of the “fat” kids in middle school. It’s not just girls.

          But, it did make me learn how to fight and play hockey and tennis, so I guess I got something out of it.

            1. Haha yep. For some reason, kids of a certain age are the best at finding your weakest/most sensitive point and mocking it. They have some innate ability that seems to regress for most people over time.

              1. Some kids just have an eye for what’ll hurt other kids. They know their exact weak spot. It’s a kind of instinctive talent for tweaking at psychological nerve endings.

                And if they cultivate that talent, nurture it and let it flourish, and weaponise it, one day they might grow up to be president of America.

              2. I think the talent regresses for most people because they realize they don’t want to be who they were as kids. Seems like only the worst kids decide they want to act like kids forever.

  3. Would offense have been taken if the names were George, Harry, and Tom? Isabel, Tom, and Irene? Afte all, these are children at an age where females often outweigh males.

    More important, I am worn out with the offended. I don’t think they should be given any publicity for their cranks.
    (I am an old white female)

    1. Who’s the ‘crank’ here? The nine year old girl?

      I know cranks, and they tend to be a lot less polite and reasonable.

    2. Would that some names applicable to either sex (Whoops! Have I said something offensive to non-binary types?), like “Alex” or “Chris” had been used. Seems like that would have caused some stress, put one on the horns of a dilemma, in not knowing whether one ought to be offended.

  4. One could argue that it’s the girl who is making the assumption that being heavier is bad. Also, the heavier girl might simply be older and larger.

    1. I agree. The woke often get offended by jumping to conclusions and reading sinister meanings into mundane statements.

        1. I’m guessing the girl gets the woke ideas from her parents. Kids don’t form their ideas in a vacuum. A kid from an earlier generation probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared that a math problem was comparing the weights of several girls.

        2. I thought that the reasoning is identical to Woke Reason, i.e. adequate for elementary school — no hyperbole. And as ploubere noted, it’s often their own judgment (and assumptions) they project into something.

  5. The question is *deeply* offensive.

    Kilograms are a measure of *mass* not weight!

    What the hell are they teaching our children?!

      1. Yes, but Imperial measures are imperialist.

        (I know USers don’t usually call them that).

        Mind you, metric/SI units basically derive from Napoleon, so if anything they are even more imperialist.

  6. I find the question offensive for a different reason: it gives students an unreasonable expectation of better than 0.004% precision (1 gram out of 29038) in weight measurements.
    That aside, the ultra-sensitive could have been accommodated by making the objects measured inanimate objects (sacks of potatoes, rocks, etc.) rather than people.

  7. Dunno why teacher crossed out “because”; I think nine-year-olds should be encouraged to use subordinating conjunctions.

    Beats kids using “because” as a preposition, because good grammar. 🙂

    1. I see nothing wrong with the “because” either.
      The whole thing seems like making a mountain out of a molehill. Did you see the way the mother was moving her head in the video (like Steve Martin’s Walk Like an Egyptian)??

    2. I see nothing wrong with the “because” either.
      The whole thing seems like making a mountain out of a molehill. Did you see the way the mother was moving her head in the video (like Steve Martin’s Walk Like an Egyptian)??

    3. Yes I had teachers do that to me as a kid – there is nothing wrong with “because” but the teacher probably has a phobia of it….just like they taught us never to start a sentence with “because” in their grammar oversimplification lessons. I was so happy to go to university and get away from arbitrary authoritarianism!

  8. Given today’s cultural climate, why would someone use personal weights in such a math problem? I’m not saying that the student’s complaint is valid but it sounds like someone was deliberately trying to rile people up.

    1. I’ve worked with plenty of textbooks and other supplemental materials for classroom, and I have seen many similar clueless examples. This is a simple math problem and there is no shortage of relevant or more interesting examples that could have been used. Some times I think the writers (often freelancers) are trying to be edgy on purpose. Other times, I think they are just astonishingly tone deaf.

      1. It reminds me of something juvenile computer programmers sometimes do. They embed comments in their code to lash out at their boss or other prominent person:

        // Bill Gates sucks!

        They know that only their co-workers are likely to see it. Of course, with source control they can’t really do this anonymously and some have gotten caught. My company licensed its code to Microsoft so a comment like the above might have been embarrassing.

  9. If this little girl’s family moves to Seattle, they will soon enjoy a new kind of Math education entirely—perhaps showing little Rhythm that subtraction is itself only a tool of Western imperialism. Education Week reports on this plan as follows:

    “The Seattle school district is planning to infuse all K-12 math classes with ethnic-studies questions that encourage students to explore how math has been “appropriated” by Western culture and used in systems of power and oppression, a controversial move that puts the district at the forefront of a movement to “rehumanize” math.

    The district’s proposed framework outlines strands of discussion that teachers should incorporate into their classes. One leads students into exploring math’s roots “in the ancient histories of people and empires of color.” Another asks how math and science have been used to oppress and marginalize people of color, and who holds power in a math classroom.”
    [ See: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2019/10/11/seattle-schools-lead-controversial-push-to-rehumanize.html?mkt_tok=eyJpIjoiWlRBek9HRTVPVGN5TXpGayIsInQiOiJnTVJpS2tyZ3ppeFV1Mk5hXC8wbmpqMlZIckNrbURPTUJuaFZOQlgyRXlKdXRoSFdjZXpsbFJGdXVVSkwzbEY3R3l4NlJBbTRPY2l1bGpTNzk2ZVg3bnBBRXpOWU9yaWJIMmdYM3lCRElcL2RPaVVnc3E2VDVCSFFEWU5LRllLMmFiIn0%3D&print=1 ]

      1. If frivolous bullshit like that is enough to motivate people to vote for a lunatic who threatens civil war if he doesn’t get what he wants then there’s nothing much any American can do.

        And it’s strange seeing people say ‘stuff like this will get Trump re-elected’ after every poxy instance of virtue-signaling political correctness. The same people don’t say ‘stuff like this will get Elizabeth Warren/Joe Biden/etc elected’ when Trump talks about nuking hurricanes to make them change course, or when he pulls out of Syria leaving the Kurds to get slaughtered.

        1. Liberals striving to be virtuous opens them up to such attacks. Once you absolve yourself of the responsibility of being truthful, you can get away with anything. Anyone who disagrees is at most a hater and at least welcome to their own version of the truth. Trump has taught the GOP that “freedom of speech” is really freedom from the burden of truth.

        2. Hey Saul. Unfortunately, “frivlous bullshit” IS often enough. As a liberal in a red state, with family and friends on both sides, I know quite a few people who don’t particularly like Trump but are willing to vote for anyone who sticks a thumb in the eye of “virtue-signaling political correctness.” I’m not endorsing their behavior, but I think Dems ignore it at their peril when they go on — well, “virtue-signaling political correctness” campaigns.

          1. I’m not defending the most extreme PC behaviour – god knows I’ve spent enough time critiquing it myself. But at some point you have to accept that the people you’re talking about _actively seek out_ stories to get angry about.

            They love stories about PC and visit sites and YT channels that specifically aggregate them. I go online and my YT recommendation feed is full of channels that go after ‘woke’ culture and ‘SJWs’. It’s the modern equivalent of the spluttering outrage of the Daily Mail reader at breakfast. There is nothing you can do about it in the main, because they’ll find their fury-fix however liberals behave.

            Of course you can avoid the worst excesses of political correctness, but just like a lot of SJWs desperately want to be offended, so do a lot of Trump supporters desperately want to be offended about SJWs being desperately offended. If you see what I mean.

            And I hope you can see that it annoys some people, people like me – who are against political correctness in its most extreme form and who dislike the far-left as much as anyone else – to see Trump and Brexit lunacy and far-right encroachment on the political system getting ignored in favour of phoney Trumpite outrage about SJWs being obnoxious.

            1. My feelings exactly. How could PC affect their lives to the extent that they’d vote for Trump to avoid it? It truly boggles the mind. I suspect their professed hate of PC is just cover for some deeper issue.

              1. I think a reliable sign that political correctness doesn’t actually affect you as much as you claim is if you spend half your time online hunting down examples of it.

        3. “…people don’t say ‘stuff like this will get Elizabeth Warren/Joe Biden/etc elected’”

          At least some don’t because none of Democrats running now can unseat Trump. Against my better judgment I’ve watched some of the recent debates. We are in very big trouble. When the time comes, I’ll hold my nose and vote Democratic. But I have little hope.

  10. My daughter had a math teacher that brought two 6th grade girls to the front of the class as objects in the discussion of mass.

    My daughter, the heavier of the two, was thoroughly upset.

    I had to have a conversation with the teacher why it was wrong.

    1. Much as been written about what an apology is
      … … and what an apology is not. As for
      how a wrong publicly has to publicly, as well, be apologized and
      as for how a wrong has to have it made clear publicly
      that the wrongdoer will not ever do it again.

      I am curious, joehatescoffee. Did your daughter’s
      teacher publicly, as in front of her class, … … apologize ?

      Blue

      1. I recall her telling me he personally apologized to her. If that was in front of the class, I don’t recall.

        He also apologized to me and said he was dense and not thinking. He was sincere and embarrassed at his own inconsideration.

    2. That’s so awful. I remember I had a grade 8 teacher (we would be 14 at the time) and he said he saw “two fat girls in the hall” referring to my friend and I. Now, I know my friend was tubby and I think he just lumped me in with her, but what he didn’t know was I thought of myself as tubby too and had already started down the path to anorexia so he just confirmed in my mind that I was overweight (if you look at pictures of me then, you can see a pronounced collar bone and I was a very small size). It wasn’t the nicest for my tubby friend either. And he was actually a nice teacher but completely clueless about how bad what he said was and what he had done.

  11. Well, these girls are not even fat – this is average weight for 4th grade students and the “fatter” one could be taller, not fatter. This is definitely making a mountain out of a molehill…

  12. I also understand that a lot of this attitude comes from men’s ranking of women that includes weight.

    Though I’ll bet that a larger proportion comes from other women.

  13. OMG — The question says absolutely nothing about whether any of the girls’ respective weights are appropriate for her height/build/age, nor does it in any way suggest that any of them is fat or skinny. For all we know, the weight of the heaviest girl is ideal, and perhaps EVEN SHE IS TOO SKINNY HERSELF! We have absolutely no idea from the wording of the problem. The problem being debated is an entirely imaginary one.

    I’m wondering if the problem had compared the weights of cows, whether some rabid vegan might have imagined that the problem meant the cows were being fattened up to be eaten!

    1. I think the right question to ask is why the test question creator didn’t use something neutral like the weight of cows, or something not related to weight at all. They were just asking for trouble, IMHO. Someone wanted to see what would happen.

      1. Given the sterile wording of the problem, any concerns about implicit weight-shaming are a stretch, and are indicative of the fact that — in the current environment — somebody, somewhere, could take issue with just about anything.

        I, of course, respect your right to disagree.

      2. Maths teachers are encouraged to try to make maths relevant to the kids by choosing examples that connect with them. (We’re also told that this particularly helps girls, whereas boys are as happy with purely abstract maths.)

        1. Sure but that only narrows down the choices a little. Perhaps cows are out but if weights must be involved, how about the weight of backpacks? Surely they can relate to those.

    2. Any use of animals in Math examples is rampant speciesism, and will be forbidden in the next Education Plan, at least in Seattle.
      On the other hand, using plants—for example comparing the weights of pumpkins—could be construed as marginalizing our brethren in the photosynthetic community. We can expect deep consideration of problems like this to occupy the School of Education endlessly.

  14. Given that eating disorders are far more common among girls than boys, I think the teacher could have chosen some other subjects to compare. As someone above suggested, rocks, or sacks of potatoes.

    1. I have known a fair few girls with eating disorders, and at least two boys. Some people cannot grasp how obsessed some kids and teenagers get about their weight. A depressing number of them retain that obsessiveness into adulthood. I know someone who is still dealing with it twenty years after she left school. Recently she had to walk with a cane it was so bad.

      It’s not quite as poxy an issue as some people seem to believe.

  15. I think it is overblown. It is a math problem, not a comment on society, and just making a word problem out of a simple calculation. A more advanced class might give a reason for why you have to calculate the difference in mass (not weight), eg. The girls are going on a spaceflight, and the amount of fuel needed is equal to their mass. How much more fuel will Isabel need than the lightest girl? I think this is just virtue signalling.

  16. Must say I think the teacher should have avoided mentioning the weights of children, even hypothetical children. It is rude to compare people’s weights and it is easy to think of an example that’s less rude.

    1. Yes, here is a hint for all you teachers out there. If it upsets a 4th grader, you probably screwed up. Find something else to add and subtract.

      By the way, there are about 25,000 school teachers in Chicago on strike today. It might have something to do with math, like maybe a low paycheck.

    2. The decision to run a TV spot about it was probably overblown – but the girl did a pretty gutsy thing. And like you say there are plenty of different ways you can ask that question.

      We learn about the world from subtle cues like this.

  17. As a teacher, there are a million other ways to assess that elementary math skill that would avoid the issue. Teachers need to be more thoughtful about their assessments so that the target of the skill is clear.

    1. I don’t think this nine year old girl was being over-sensitive. I think she spoke about something that made her uncomfortable, and did so in a polite, reasonable way. The teacher’s reply was equally decent and reasonable.

      And “triggered 9 year old” in the headline for this post is an odd choice of words, given the mocking association the word ‘triggered’ has. How was this girl ‘triggered’? She just wrote a polite message to her teacher.

      1. ‘Triggering’ as a term was originally used in the context of PTSD flashbacks. Nowadays it’s used as shorthand for ‘getting mad’.

        1. Or making you feel uncomfortable or think unpleasant thoughts. Another legitimate term ruined and another ailment (PTSD) trivialized with over reactions. This whole era should be termed the “cry wolf” era.

      2. It seems to me that it took some preparation for her to assume that the problem related to fat girls. Nothing in the problem suggested that it referred to fat girls. Also, she could not spell the simplest words and yet could spell offensive. Suggestive at the least!

  18. Forgive me for chuckling because PCC(E)used the adjective “overblown” to describe his opinion of the issue.

    I’m positive that this was unintentional; people frequently engage in this kind of wordplay, purely unintentionally, to characterize a situation or state.

    I wonder what parts of the language areas of the brain are triggered to make this kind of connection?

  19. I think it was either very thoughtless or intentionally unkind of any teacher to use weight of kids in math problems. Especially in our world where kids, but particularly girls, are treated offensively if they are “overweight.”

    Stupid teacher. I would have written a letter to the school principal to let them know my objections and to “instruct” the teacher on using less-offensive examples.

    Kids AND adults can be bullies.

  20. Male here.
    1. It does not matter what the objects are (humans, non-human animals, pieces of equipment, rocks). The idea behind these application problems is that the student has to learn how to think abstractly.

    2. As far as weights go: lots of honest to goodness applications (e. g. elevator capacities, weight vs. athletic performance, etc.) It isn’t all about beauty standards, etc.

    I am so glad that I do not teach grade school..and am glad that I might have a decade left for teaching college.

    1. Yeah, I’m sure the first thing that comes to kids’ minds when comparing weights is elevator capacities. I’m also glad you don’t teach grade school.

  21. Nine year old girl sees women’s weights being compared in a maths question. She writes a very polite, pretty thoughtful note to her teacher. The teacher writes a polite reply.

    Seems uncontroversial to me, and a rather sweet story.

  22. I feel sorry for the girl and the teacher. The girl has been brainwashed into seeing insults everywhere. Its is a method to build fragility not resiliency. My wife is horrified at women who teach their girls this way.

    The teacher is not allowed to call out the idiocy but must bow down to wokeness.

    1. Or perhaps the teacher…agreed? Unimaginable as it may seem, not everybody is upset by the sight of a nine year old girl writing a polite message about not comparing women’s weight.

  23. However minor the offence might be, it could so easily be avoided it seems crass not to: just compare the weight of three dogs, say, or three elephants — both probably more appealing subjects of contemplation to 9-year-olds in any case.

  24. I had a statistics professor in college who tried to demonstrate an equation by having everyone in the class come up to the board to list their height and weight… I demurred along with the other female students, but I wasn’t offended. I just thought the teacher was either clueless or maybe it was a cultural difference (he was Indian, I think.) In a way it showed he didn’t think about people’s weight to the point of this being a sore spot never even occurring to him.

    I don’t think comparing the weights of imaginary students is offensive at all. That the girl finds it offensive means she’s already picked up on ideas about lighter being better, but she got those somewhere else, not from this math problem.

    1. If I had been in that class, I would have downed some more ex-lax right after to purge anything after I saw the other weights.

  25. I think it’s generally bad that the media even covers these stories. It’s not of national interest, and it just creates anxiety for teachers because now they have to worry that a faux pas or a mistake in the curriculum will “go viral” and become national news.

      1. Yeah, I’m sure that poor girl is traumatized. It will take years of therapy to undo the damage done by a thoughtless word problem. She will probably never lead a normal life.

        1. So it doesn’t really matter what a teacher does as long as the student isn’t traumatized for life by it. I’m sure you’re a fine educator.

          1. “So it doesn’t really matter what a teacher does as long as the student isn’t traumatized for life by it.”

            And what exactly did the teacher do wrong here? Ask a girl to solve a word problem illustrated by a hypothetical example? As other commenters have pointed out, the word problem made no reference to the ages or heights or appearances of the fictional girls. There was no body-shaming of any kind. If the girl was offended, maybe it was because she was reading her own pre-occupations into the problem.

            If the teacher gives way in this instance, the girl will learn the wrong lessons: namely, that innocent remarks are really “micro-aggressions” in disguise and that hyper-sensitivity is somehow virtuous. In order to get along with others, we have to interpret their remarks charitably and not assume that everything is meant to wound us in some way.

            P.S. I’m not an educator.

          2. Everyone should consider becoming an educator. From my experience it provides a wonderful opportunity to be sweetly addressed by students with such admirable locutions as “Shut up!” and “Get out of my face, bitch!”

            Somehow, the prospect of such enjoyable professional experiences are not featured in the glossy recruiting literature.

        2. What a cheap, sneering reply. You might as well have just written ‘triggered lol’ and left it at that.

          1. Thank you for your incisive literary critique. I will incorporate your suggestions into future internet comments.

    1. “It’s not of national interest . . . .”

      From my observation, local/regional U.S. newspapers (based on their local market research, I speculate) feature items of local interest on page one, I guess because the local citizenry are not all that much interested in items of (inter-) national interest.

    1. I substitute taught in fifth grade today. The teacher’s lesson plan required them to work in pairs researching specific rain forest-related topics. Some students asked for examples of good topics. I said, “The burning of rain forests to provide land for agriculture and cattle is a hot topic.”

  26. I’m not torn by this one at all. There is no normative claim being made in the problem. I.e. the problem doesn’t tell you that 35kg is bad or that 29.238 kg is good…or vice versa…or that they’re both unhealthy…or that they’re both healthy. It makes no social value judgment at all. It’s just an empirical observation. Is Isabel 3 feet tall? Is she 6 feet tall? Somewhere in between? We don’t know. And without that information, it’s pretty much impossible to call “weighs 35kg” insulting or offensive.

    I think the science teacher should absolutely push back on this one. Taking empirical measurements – yes, even involving humans – is important to understanding the world, health, society, and so on. We must make such observations if we are to learn about the world and how it works, including how humans work and how we can improve our lives. And students of science and math must be able to comprehend them such quesitons. Learning “words to the correct math translation” is probably one of the most important skills a scientist needs to have. This is important training.

    Now: it is absolutely possible to come up with offensive measurement or science questions. So I have no problem with parents and students keeping an eye on such questions and giving feedback. This, however, is IMO not one of them.

      1. Yep. At least, “judgmentalism” is according to the oed.

        Judgmentalism is ‘the quality of being judgemental; overly critical or moralistic behaviour.’

        I don’t know how the “e” is lost in going from “judgemental” to “judgmentalism”.

        (My spellcheck detects neither.)

        1. The e thing could be because you can spell it “judgement” or “judgment”. I learned all this after Terminator Judgment Day because I always spelled it with the e. I also learned recently that you can write “alright” as so or alternatively as “all right”. Hmmm.

            1. It’s considered non standard but you see it everywhere so the dictionary editors should just accept it. It’s more something for usage guides where authoritarian snobs can use it to lord their superiority over others, as is often the case with usage guide enforcers.

          1. That’s where I learned it too! I tried typing ‘Judgement Day’ and it autocorrected to ‘Judgment Day’. I still think that’s a weird way to spell it.

            Maybe Arnie pushed them to spell it that way. “NO, there’s no ‘e’ in the middle, whad is wrong wid you? Aoargh”

  27. How many children were given this math problem and how many of them, didn’t care less, nuanced the problem as meaning nothing offensive was meant and how many complained that it had some other meaning other than a math problem.
    If it’s a mean girl problem, then it’s not a math problem… and so on.
    The mother should address THAT problem, perhaps the teacher could pitch in as well… freaking heck, issue counter arguments to address concerns of weight shaming.
    I’m agree with JohnE, things fall apart rather easy.

  28. As a nine year old girl I would never have been offended at this problem.

    As an adult I can see that if anything, it acknowledges that in a given classroom the students are going to vary in their weight, and it accepts this as normal. There is no judgement being made about whether one of the students is overweight, or about whether one is underweight – all of them are treated equally, and all the question asks for is a simple mathematical difference to demonstrate understanding of weight units, subtraction, numbers, etc. This is especially true when most students in the U.S. probably don’t even know their own weight in kg, since Imperial measure of weight is most commonly used outside of science.

    The teacher probably did not even make up the problem themselves. Stories like this just add to the rift between those who are trying to basically be more considerate and those who refuse to be politically correct.

  29. I think I could see her point if the exercise was comparing actual weights of actual classmates but that doesn’t seem to be the case – it’s just weights applied to hypothetical girls. Is it subtly a bad message? Maybe. At the same time, there will be a time where weights are compared at a doctor’s office.

    And I speak with some experience as I was an anorexic girl. I recently found a health exercise from high school that asked us to track our food. I think each day I took in something like 300 calories or less. My teacher wrote “this is a starvation diet” on my paper to which I thought, inwardly, “well duh”. Nothing was done about it however. Jut that remark. I can tell you it was a lot of things added up that contributed to anorexia and they were a lot more overt than a hypothetical math question.

      1. Yes, but it will be compared to others to see if you are in a healthy range and it will be mentioned and it shouldn’t be considered rude.

      2. Um. Not necessarily. I’ve been in both situations. It was horribly embarrassing when my weight was called out by my gym teacher to the class, but a doctor told my mother I was a fat slob. My mother then punished me by forcing me on diets and turned my siblings into the secret police to monitor my food intake. I was about 8 years old. Hell on earth.

    1. But if the alternative is a simple amendment to a math question is it really a big deal to do it?

      Like you say, it’s only a subtly bad message, but it’s still a message, and it doesn’t have to be there.

      1. Sure. I don’t see a problem with weighing something else but I also don’t see it as disastrous enough to warrant the attention it has gotten either. I don’t think there are any monsters here.

        1. “The teacher likely took the question from a teaching manual. Now she will choose another.”

          Exactly. And so a small problem is solved and the world keeps spinning on its axis.

          I think both sides are guilty of making a big deal out of this, not just the mother and the TV station.

    2. If it helps you to know, my friend is a guidance counselor, and finding out that a student was on a diet like that (e.g. that she/he was anorexic) would be taken very seriously and involve an intervention these days.

      I had a friend who was anorexic in high school and college. I’m glad you got better. Unfortunately, she never did, and there were many interventions. She just got worse and worse over the years. Of course, there was a lot of mental illness comorbidity involved. The last time I saw her, she was wearing a heart monitor. She was dead a couple of weeks later.

  30. Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average, except their weights where they are all exactly the average.

  31. Totally agree with Eric, above. The math problem doesn’t imply that any of these weights is better than the other! And we can’t know, as Eric pointed out, whether or not the fictional people in question are even overweight because we don’t know their heights.

    What I AM concerned with, as a Utah taxpayer, is the student’s illiteracy! She can’t possibly be doing much in the way of reading.

  32. I think the teacher should have corrected the kid’s (and her mother’s) spelling and grammar.

    She should also have pointed out that children grow at slightly different rates, so all kids in the same class will always be of different weights. This is not “rood”; it’s a simple fact. Politicized hypersensitivity should not be encouraged.

    1. The teacher did correct the child’s grammar and spelling.

      As for correcting the mother’s spelling and grammar…this isn’t some kind of battle – the teacher isn’t there to take the parent down a peg or two, as much as you’d enjoy it.

      1. Is it a parent’s unquestionable prerogative to take a teacher down a peg or two?

        Who is worthy to take down a parent a peg or two?

  33. in re grammar and kiddos in USA – elementary schools … … at least within the Midwest:
    since now, at the least, ~35 years ago a deal
    has begun within four – year – olds, five –
    year – olds, six – year – olds and maybe
    older kiddos within their schools called
    journaling or simply writing.

    They write what they hear. Phonetically.

    They are to be concerned about spelling and
    correct punctuation / grammar, then, much,
    much later on.

    Any reader – USA elementary teachers here
    to comment ?

    Blue

  34. This is one of these bizarre aspects of modern human behavior.

    First of all, why would human females care about their weight?

    Could it be that humans behave differently around human females of different weights, and that makes human females of the undesired weight feel bad that they are socially and romantically rejected?

    Could it also mean that some females sometimes do stupid or irrational things to avoid social rejection? [As compared to say men who inject silicon to make their arms look big and end up dying from medical complications.]

    Is the solution to ban discussion of the way humans actually behave, and pretend (and claim) that humans (or at least “good humans”) don’t behave that way (even though they do)?

    Or better yet, construct a whole social taboo around even mentioning weight and females–that way we can behave like we have always behaved, but no one is allowed to mention the elephant in the living room.

    Does anyone actually think overweight girls who suffer from social rejection as a result benefit from living in a society refusing to talk about it, or saying one thing and doing another?

    As if women were too stupid to get that they are being bull$#!+ed? And does it help to co-opt children into this campaign of B.S?

    The level of hypocrisy in modern society makes Victorian England seem uninhibited by comparison.

    [I know, if we all just tell ourselves B.S. it will become true. That might strike you as magical thinking, but as we learned from post-modernism, its socially constructed like so many other unpleasant facts we want to avoid confronting. Hard to believe that humans have been around as long as they have and no one figured out the fast track to utopia sooner.]

    1. I’m unclear on exactly the point you are making here. There are lots of aspects of the human condition that we are uncomfortable talking about. The level of discomfort varies across people and situations, of course. We can argue all day about whether people should feel the way they do. Still, the teacher’s job was to teach math, not make the students more comfortable talking about body weight. The teacher should have written a better math problem.

      1. You invoke a moral obligation:

        “The teacher should have written a better math problem”.

        To me and most existing lives in being, the actual problem is innocuous, and it is hard to imagine even 10 years ago this matter ever being “problematic”.

        So, what moral duty has the teacher violated, and what makes a math problem “better” in this context?

        This problem is “wrong” so far as I can tell because it invokes females and weight, which suggests people want to assemble some cultural taboo about talking about females and weight, and I’m not seeing how this taboo (while perhaps serving a religious function) helps females anymore than Victorian taboos around discussing females and sexuality assured that all women grew up to be “nice girls”.

        [And I am not maintaining that a teacher cannot write up an offensive math problem for an examination, say something with an Auschwitz theme for example, just not clear why this problem is offensive.]

        1. “To me and most existing lives in being, the actual problem is innocuous, and it is hard to imagine even 10 years ago this matter ever being “problematic”.”

          Then the commenters here are not representative of “existing lives” since many told stories about how they were sensitive to weigh issues when they were young. I wasn’t sensitive about my weight and perhaps you weren’t, but many are.

          1. We aren’t talking about a comment that is “insensitive to weight issues”, nor would I endorse people in a public role like a teacher using derogatory language around a student’s “weight issues”.

            We are talking about a math problem where you compare numbers that are supposed to represent the weights of women. OMG. Build an Ark!

            Go ahead boycott and de-platform the “World’s Biggest Loser” for all I care, but I don’t grok the taboo against the idea that little children will be poisoned by having to confront the hypothetical fact that women might have different weights, and that you can work with different quantities to derive mathematical answers.

            As a serious issue, find me one example in human history where some student’s objection to a math problem dealing with the possibility that women could have quantitatively different weights resulted in a national news coverage and faux outrage?

            And it is faux outrage, because anytime you address the contrived nature of the conflict, the response is to deflect to some rotten behavior from childhood that isn’t comparable. [It’s like someone being outraged about eating a peach because eating a peach is equivalent to rape, and then when you point out they are not the same, they go on about how terrible rape is.]

            1. If anyone’s going off the deep end, it’s you. I don’t have any “outrage” here, “faux” or otherwise. I’m simply saying it is a real problem, though exposing it in national media is certainly overkill. The teacher or course author should have created a better question, IMHO. If it had to be about weights, make it about backpacks.

  35. Nit Pick – Five errors in five words, and probably one or two in this post – there should be a comma in there somewhere, perhaps … this, its rood.

    1. You should not criticize her spelling/grammar, after all as one of the ‘Woke’ she is free of the restrictive rules of the Patriarchy(tm)

  36. For those that think it is too PC to complain about the teacher using weights this way, they might consider that it distracts from learning.

    Instead of thinking about the math, the students are likely to think about their own weight relative to their classmates. While it helps learning to construct problems that refer to things the students care about, their sentiment needs to be positive for it to help focus their attention. They need to enjoy thinking about the problem, not hope for the teacher to move on before something embarrassing occurs.

    1. If students are not thinking about solving math problems AS math problems, but are getting hung up on extraneous information, it’s time for the teacher(s) involved to read and implement G. Polya’s classic book “How To Solve It” (which is more about how to teach mathematics than the title implies).
      The first step, as summarized in the preface to the book, is “Understanding the Problem”. If students cannot or will not separate relevant facts from superfluous ones, they will have problems in many aspects of life in addition to lacking basic math skills.
      In this instance, the teacher should have pointed out the fact that specific names (i.e. “A”, “B”, and “C” work equally well as identifiers), genders, and even type of objects are utterly irrelevant to the problem to be solved. As Polya wrote, this is best achieved by asking questions that direct the student to think about the relevant issues (a time tested method sometimes called the Socratic method); “what is the unknown?”, “what are the data?”, “what is the condition?”.
      If students are in fact being distracted by superfluous details, that is a “teachable moment” in newspeak; they need to learn to focus on what matters for the problem at hand.

        1. The universe is cold. Better that kids should be taught what is and what is not relevant, sooner rather than later. Instead of coddling their hypersensitivity, they should be taught how to deal with real-world problems (and how to spell, punctuate, and form grammatically correct sentences).
          There are many instances where a weight difference matters; some have already been mentioned in comments. At a later stage, the same problem could be extended; if Isabel and the lightest student are each 150 cm from the frictionless pivot, 75 cm above ground, of a see-saw having negligible mass, at what velocity will the heavy end of the see-saw impact the ground when the two raise their legs? That’s a trivial physics problem; if the kids and their parents 60-70 years ago had been as hypersensitive as the Pacheco family, there wouldn’t have been a NASA space program. If STEM (https://www.ed.gov/Stem) is a priority,how are kids like Rhythm supposed to become proficient? And what will they do to earn a living when (if) they grow up?

    2. Even more terrible would be math problems about banana splits or ice cream, because the children might obsess about poor food choices and become obese. So food, lemonade stands, etc. is out.

      You can’t do problems about money, because it might cause some students to think about how they aren’t as wealthy as other students and it will make them feel bad.

      You can’t do boys and girls, because that would reinforce transphobia.

      Really, mathematics would have to be striped of any practical applications that children could relate to, and taught as a completely abstract discipline with no relationship to their actual lives. Yeah, that will really get those grade schoolers on the STEM track!

      1. Sure, I see where you are going here but it isn’t as hard as you’re making it out to be. There are no guarantees, of course. If you make the question about grapefruits, you might hurt a student whose father was killed by a falling branch from a grapefruit tree. However, it would be unreasonable to worry about that.

        Perhaps this will help. You would agree that we should avoid using drug references in the test questions, right? That one’s easy. Using student’s weights is not as bad as that but is still a sensitive issue. especially for kids, and can easily be avoided.

  37. I can identify with the student. Eating disorders affect males and females. The morbidity of eating disorders is alarmingly high. Questions like this one can trigger negative thoughts and there is absolutely no need to use humans in that comparison.

    1. Shouldn’t schools ban lunch as well, since lunch stimulates children to think and focus on eating, and eating disorders are characterized by obsessive behaviors around food?

      Also, schools try to get children to make healthy food choices, doesn’t this kind of health information pose a danger to children who might get obsessed with healthy eating to the point of developing an eating disorder? Don’t you also stigmatize obesity when you tell children all the horrible health impacts it has on humans? Doesn’t this encourage anorexia?

  38. The video above from the local NBC station says the math question comes from a company called ‘Eureka Math’ that provides educational programs to schools. The girls’ weight question was not made up by the teacher.

    My issue with the question is the aspect of comparing the girls’ weights to each other. There’s already plenty of emphasis of girls comparing themselves appearance-wise to each other; there doesn’t have to be school problems that employ these comparisons to teach math.

    I agree with a poster above that a better choice would have been to use backpacks, or books, or some other item that the students would be familiar with.

    This is all bringing back memories of how, 50 years ago, we grade school girls would gang up on anyone who was even the slightest overweight. I remember we mercilessly teased a girl called Nancy, all for being about 10 lbs heavier than the rest of us.

  39. When I was nine I would have been in a school a few miles away from Rhythm’s school. I have a couple of reaction. First I think she was courageous to raise an issue that mattered to her. Seeing her and her mother I don’t see weight as a critical issue in her family. My experience in school was the incredible pressure to conform to some vague social norms (which resulted in some odd problems for me in my time in public schools). Standing up is difficult for a child. On the other hand a math problem does not seem like a critical issue. I suspect that part of the problem comes from the fact she started to work out a solution and came up with 5,962. That is a pretty big number and that might seem problematic that a girl would weigh 5,962 somethings more than another girl. Would she have come to the same conclusion if the answer was about 2.7 pounds? It is the same answer mathematically. I do think the test generating company was a little insensitive but not much more than many people would be. It was a man who replied to the questions.

    The last time I was nine was 64 years ago so maybe Utah schools are different now. It was much the same for my children 35 years ago.

  40. ‘Rhythm’ Pacheco? Does anyone else find that name slightly absurd – the sort of name that causes thoughtless classmates to giggle when they first hear it? Maybe that has made her overly sensitive to imaginary slights of any sort.

    Presumably Petal Blossom Rainbow was taken.

    cr

  41. “judging people’s weight” is not the same as measuring it.
    That seems to be a common leftist trend these days. They oppose the measurement or study of lots of things on the basis of conflating measurement and judgement.

    1. Exactly right. Some people on this forum seem to believe that because some children might confuse a factual statement with a judgmental one, we should not make the factual statement. I disagree. Rather, children should be taught the difference. We are not preparing them to be adults by pandering to their mistaken perception.

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