Elementary student refuses to answer 'offensive' math problem about how much girls weigh

MURRAY, Utah — A Salt Lake County fourth-grader is speaking up, claiming a math problem in her homework sheds light on a bigger problem: young girls’ body image.

“I was shocked… I was shocked, honestly,” said Naomi Pacheco as she stood in front of her daughter’s elementary school.

It was the last thing Naomi expected to see on her fourth-grader’s homework.

“I feel like it’s such an irresponsible way to teach children how to do math,” Naomi told KSTU.

“The problems right before that talked about watermelons, and then the problem before that, a Saint Bernard,” said Melissa Hamilton, the Murray City School District director of elementary teaching and learning. “So, fourth-grade student, fourth-grade problem.”

But the questionable equation wasn’t comparing apples and oranges.

“It was comparing girls’ weights,” said Naomi.

“It says, ‘The table to the right shows the weight of three Grade 4 students. How much heavier is Isabell than the lightest student?'" said Naomi.

Naomi’s 9-year-old daughter, Rhythm, wasn’t OK with what she saw.

“She said, ‘You know, Mom, I’m not going to answer this question. I’m not going to do it,’” Naomi recalled.

“I thought it was offensive,” said Rhythm. “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.”

Rhythm chose not to answer the question.

“She circled and wrote, ‘What! This is offensive! Sorry I won’t write this it’s rude!’” Naomi said as she continued to read from the photo.

Rhythm said she was concerned she would get in trouble, "because we get graded on this." So, she decided to write her teacher a letter in addition to the short message she wrote next to the question on her math worksheet.

“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. Also, the reason I didn’t write a sentence is because I just didn’t think that was nice,” Rhythm said.

“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.”

The problem in question is part of Rhythm’s Common Core math curriculum, provided to Murray City School District by Eureka Math.

“They’re trying to make questions relevant to a fourth-grader’s life and lifestyle and things that they encounter,” Hamilton said.

The school district said this is the first year they have used Eureka Math as a provider for their students. The district said they were, and still are, eager to use the curriculum given its proven success rates in other states.

“I didn’t really think that would be on homework, I thought that would be fruits or vegetables or things like that,” said Rhythm.

“I can certainly see if a fourh-grade student did misconstrue that question. However, in math curriculum, wasn’t about body image — the question was about moving kilograms to pounds,” Hamilton said.

KSTU reached out to Eureka Math. They said in the six years they’ve provided math modules, they’ve never had a complaint about one of their questions.

“There is no value judgment in the question about weight, it’s merely a comparison," Eureka Math’s Director of Marketing Communications Chad Colby told KSTU in a phone conversation. "It sounds like the parent is putting the value judgment on it, not the question."

“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,” Naomi said.

“The fact that they are asking questions like this irresponsible,” Naomi continued. “If it is such a great way to teach, then I think we can look outside of the box and ask questions differently. There’s just no need for it.”

Colby said he did not believe there was any reason for the company to address the question or have it removed.