Rhythm Pacheco, a 9-year-old from Murray, UT, wasn’t having it when she saw a question on her math test asking her to compare the weights of three girls.
Rhythm's mom, Naomi, told Fox affiliate KSTU she was shocked when she saw the question on her daughter’s homework sheet. “I feel like it’s such an irresponsible way to teach children how to do math,” Naomi said.
The math problem had a chart depicting the weights of three girls in kilograms. Next to the chart was a question that read, “The table to the right shows the weight of three Grade 4 students. How much heavier is Isabell than the lightest student?” according to Naomi.
Instead of answering the question, Rhythm circled it and wrote, “What!!!! This is offensive! Sorry I won’t right [sic] this it’s rood [sic].” To hammer home her point, she also wrote a letter to her teacher. “I don’t want to be rude, but I think that math problem wasn’t very nice, I thought that was judging people’s weight,” Rhythm read aloud to KSTU. “Also, the reason I didn’t write a sentence is because I just didn’t think that was nice.”
Naomi noted that her issue wasn’t with the school at all; it was with the normalization of talking about and comparing young girls’ bodies with one another. “Her teacher was so responsive and spoke to her about it and supported her decision,” Naomi said. “This isn’t about the teacher, the school, or anything—we love our school and our community. What it’s about is children being taught this everywhere, that it’s OK to make direct comparisons with weight.”
“I thought it was offensive,” Rhythm said. “I didn’t like that because girls shouldn’t be comparing each other. I know it was a math problem…but I don’t think that was really OK.”
The math problem came from Eureka Math, which, on its website, calls itself "the most widely used curriculum in the America." Murray City School District said this is the first year they’ve used Eureka’s materials. Melissa Hamilton, the district’s Director of Elementary Teaching and Learning, told KSTU that while the subject matter of this question was very different from the rest of the worksheet, which asked students to compare “watermelons” and “St. Bernards,” it wasn’t meant to cause controversy.
“I can certainly see if a fourth-grade student did misconstrue that question,” Hamilton said. "However, in math curriculum, [it] wasn’t about body image—the question was about moving kilograms to pounds.”
Initially, Eureka Math Director of Communications Chad Colby told Fox the question was “merely a comparison,” and not a “value judgment.” Colby went on to say, "It sounds like the parent is putting the value judgment on it, not the question.” He also said he disagreed with Rhythm and Naomi’s sentiment that the question should be removed.
As the story made the rounds, however, Eureka Math contacted Fox with a new statement and apology that read, "User feedback is a vital part of our culture; we are grateful to receive constructive feedback from students, teachers and parents alike. We apologize for any discomfort or offense caused by the question. Please know that we will replace this question in all future reprints, and suggest that teachers supply students with an appropriate replacement question in the interim."
Naomi called Eureka Math “irresponsible” for posing the question to fourth-graders in the first place. “If it is such a great way to teach, then I think we can look outside of the box and ask questions differently,” Naomi said. “I think we have other resources and other ways of teaching our children math and how to weigh proportions, objects, people, without direct comparisons—especially comparing little girls.”