December 10, 2008

How dumb was this?

From White Plains, NY:

A white social studies teacher attempted to enliven a seventh-grade discussion of slavery by binding the hands and feet of two black girls, prompting outrage from one girl's mother and the local chapter of the NAACP.

After the mother complained to Haverstraw Middle School, the superintendent said he was having "conversations with our staff on how to deliver effective lessons."

"If a student was upset, then it was a bad idea," said Superintendent Brian Monahan of the North Rockland School District in New York City's northern suburbs.

The teacher apologized to the mother who complained and her 13-year-old daughter during a meeting Thursday that also included a representative of the local NAACP. But the mother, Christine Shand of Haverstraw, said Friday she thinks the teacher should be removed from the class.

I wonder if the teacher is fairly new. I can see a young teacher, full of energy but also some naďveté, trying something like this out. Still, you gotta let just a bit of common sense to prevail, eh? Ever see the movie “Amistad?” I recall reading that, during its filming, the shackling of the [black] actors was quite an emotional experience. In fact, only other black actors, production assistants, et. al. were permitted to put the shackles on these actors. I can only imagine what these seventh graders must’ve felt.

Here’s how I would have handled the lesson: First, I’d send a mass e-mail (or a snail mail letter) home explaining the unit or lesson -- due to the sensitivity of the topic. Usually, if I want to demonstrate something, I ask for student volunteers. I don’t randomly choose students to come up in front of the class since many are quite introverted. In this case, ‘though, I doubt I’d consider such volunteers. If anything, I’d use myself as the subject of the demonstration (students love it when they see their teachers in something other than their customary role), and perhaps would enlist the aid of a few fellow instructors.

Eileen Bernstein, the teacher in question, apologized as noted. For me, if this was Ms. Bernstein’s first such “infraction” as it were, that is sufficient. Demanding her removal from the class (not sure if this means her dismissal?) is unduly harsh. She made a mistake. She attempted to liven up a lesson – as all good teachers should do – but she went about it in quite the wrong manner.

Of course, a lawsuit isn’t out of the question for Mrs. Shand. It’s America! Land of the Lawsuit!

This “sensitivity” issue brings to me an otherwise innocuous “incident” in one of my classes the other day. (And it fits perfectly into the PC/anti-PC nature we see every holiday season.) I was doing a verb review activity whereby two students each have a small whiteboard, a marker, and an eraser. As I was handing out these implements, I said, “Whoa! Look! Holiday-themed markers!” (as the markers were red and green). Notice I didn’t even say “Christmas” -- I said “Holiday.” One (very bright & friendly) student immediately remarked (facetiously, mind you, but a tad seriously) “That’s insensitive! Not everyone celebrates Christmas!” I responded, “Sure, but I didn’t say ‘Christmas.’ I said ‘Holiday.’” The student retorted, “Ah, but what do the colors green and red represent? Christmas! I then conceded that was pretty much accurate, but then pressed the student (again, all in good fun but with a touch of seriousness) on exactly how my bringing up these “representational” colors was “insensitive.” The student reiterated her point about everyone not celebrating Christmas.

I then asked if I had brought up a reference to, say, Hanukkah, if that would be "insensitive." Or Ramadan, say. Whatever. She found herself pondering that for a little bit. To which I said, “Y’see? Why worry about a reference [such as mine] to a particular holiday? I could have just as easily referenced Hanukkah or Ramadan in such an innocuous and well-meaning manner." I also asked is it “offensive” to reference a holiday whose overall general message is “goodwill towards all men?”

She got it. I like that. ;-)

Posted by Hube at December 10, 2008 06:40 PM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

DE Lib calling you a racist in 3--2--1...

Also, IIRC Hanukkah colors are blue and white, which would make it difficult to have Hanukkah themed makers, as white is rarely included in sets.

Hmm, does that make it racist against the Jewish or Caucasians?

Posted by: Joe M at December 11, 2008 07:50 PM

Nah, I doubt it, Joe. numbski had his ass handed to him for his asinine post about me and I don't think those dimwits are THAT big of gluttons for punishment! ;-)

Posted by: Hube at December 11, 2008 09:24 PM