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Units May 8, 2023

Reparations Math and Reparations History

Lesson Summary: Students apply math skills, research into historical wealth gaps in the U.S., and an analysis of different reparations models to an investigation into whether or not reparations should be paid to the descendents of enslaved people in the U.S. Downloads: Unit resources

This unit was created by math and history educators in Boston schools as part of the 2021 cohort of The 1619 Project Education Network. It is designed for facilitation across approximately 3-4 weeks, or 15 class periods.


Students will be able to…

  1. Analyze the way that the sugar industry, and other industries that grew as a result of slave labor, have led to a wealth gap for African Americans in the U.S.
  2. Apply analysis of news articles and primary source documents to evaluate whether they think reparations should be paid to descendents of enslaved people in the U.S.
  3. Investigate the historical and financial backgrounds of various proposals for  reparations in the U.S. and the world. 
  4. Match the pattern of payments of reparations with patterns of  function families ( such as linear, exponential, and absolute value).
  5. Use patterns of function families to suggest steps the U.S. government can take to provide financial reparations
  6. Report research and findings in a presentation.

Essential Question

  1. Should  reparations  be paid for the United  States’ use  of enslaved labor?  If so, what is  the basis of those payments?

Unit Overview

Inspired by HR-40, a bill in the U.S. Congress that proposes funding a commission to study and develop proposals for reparations to African Americans in the United States, students will apply math and research skills to an investigation into whether or not reparations should be paid to the descendents of enslaved people in the U.S.  They will study, document, and analyze activities that led to the worldwide domination of crops produced using slave labor due  to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. They will also evaluate the way that enslavement of African Americans has led to a wealth gap for African Americans over time. 

Next, students will evaluate how reparations have been paid throughout history to communities throughout the world. They will also analyze proposals made throughout U.S. history for reparations to African Americans, and apply algebra skills to evaluate the mathematical models for different proposals for reparations.  In the end, students will create presentations for their communities that explain the mathematical model for a reparations proposal explored during the unit. They will also apply details and analysis from the unit to present on whether or not they think reparations should be paid to descendants of formerly enslaved Africans and African-Americans, and why. 

The original pedagogical vision for this project was that students would study this unit in a mixed-interdisciplinary  fashion among two teachers (like a one-room schoolhouse): one math teacher and one social studies or history teacher. They would approach the unit like a problem they are trying to solve using methods of Problem Based Learning  (PBL). The unit is written to reflect content taught in both the math and social studies classes. 
Note: It may be helpful for students to review linear functions before engaging with this unit, or throughout the unit. The resource referenced in this unit to review linear functions is Common Functions Reference from

Performance Task

Students will create presentations that explain the mathematical model for a reparations proposal explored in the unit, and reflect their analysis of the unit’s essential question. Students will use the Reparations Math Final Project Instructions [.docx] [.pdf] and Presentation Template (.pptx) to prepare their final presentations.


A project-based learning rubric will be used to evaluate final presentations created by  students to share their research into the lasting impacts of slavery on the wealth gap for African Americans, and their cases for reparations to descendents of enslaved Africans and African Americans. Their presentations should also share what math function the U.S. should use to determine and provide monetary preparations.


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