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KKK Robes: Why Were They Allowed in the Classroom?

Why did two Georgia public-school teachers allow students to dress in Ku Klux Klan attire for their school project? 

Lumpkin County High School teacher Catherine Ariemma, who teaches the advanced-placement course combining U.S. history and film education, says that five students in her class came up with the idea to trace the history of racism in America for their final project topic. 

Ariemma told The Associated Press (AP) that her students spent the year viewing films and later created their own films to watch in class. She stated that her class has 15 students of multiple races but no Black students.

With the permission of their teacher, four of the students wore robes resembling KKK outfits in efforts to depict the notorious white-supremacist hate group, which had large chapters nearby in Georgia and Alabama. Ariemma told the AP that she had escorted the kids down the hall as they were filming. She said, “The kids brought the sheets in; they had SpongeBob party hats underneath to make it shaped like a cone. They cut out the eyes so they could see.”

Black students at the school were offended when they spotted the group filming their project in the cafeteria, especially when some of the teens dressed in costume asked one Black student for his assistance with their project.

Student Cody Rider admitted to wanting to fight the students who were dressed in the KKK-like hoods. He said that they were taunting his cousin. “Students approached him and asked if they can re-enact the lynching of him for their class project,” he said.

Ariemma further told the AP that students were covering an important and sensitive topic but one that she might handle differently in the future. She said, “It was poor judgment on my part in allowing them to film at school.” Ariemma did, however, defend her decision when she told CNN, “We have to discuss racism in our society because if we don’t, we are condoning it, and I don’t cover it up. You can’t discuss racism and not include the Klan.”

Lumpkin County School Superintendent Dewey Moye stated that Ariemma had been placed on administrative leave and could face anything from suspension to termination.

The superintendent didn’t believe the teacher was trying to offend anyone but admitted that her decision wasn’t well thought out. Moye was cited by the web site First Coast News as saying, “We have to be careful with our study of history, especially that period of time. It was a dark period and we have to include it. But the teacher’s behavior was unacceptable. We condemn that kind of behavior.”

In related news, another Georgia school teacher is in the hot seat for similar actions.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution was told that Stephanie Hunte, an eighth-grade social-studies teacher at Sweetwater Middle School in Lawrenceville, Ga., allowed her students to wear KKK robes as part of a re-enactment for their social-studies curriculum.

Before this could continue, another teacher saw the students preparing for the re-enactment and told an administrator. Gwinnett County schools spokesperson Sloan Roach said, “The administrator told Hunte that this type of activity was not appropriate and would not take place.”

Unfortunately, school officials found out that this same “re-enactment” had taken place the day before. As of now, no disciplinary action has taken place.

>> Read comments to this story and share your opinions.

 

19 Comments

  • I have not seen students dressed in Nazi uniforms to learn about world war II. It therefore seems odd that students need to dress in Klan uniforms to learn about the KKK. And why does this happen only in the south? Hmmm.

  • While it is true that the role of the Ku Klux Klan in American history should be studied and should not be covered up or forgotten, there is no legitimate educational purpose in “reinacting” racist actions, thereby giving students permission to engage in otherwise impermissible conduct.

  • I am shocked and appalled that a teacher would encourage this. If students feel this is the only way they can communicate our history, it must mean they feel a connection with these deplorable actions by their ancesters. I wouldn’t want to be caught dead in an attire that symbolizes so much hatred, dissension, and grief for so many people. Shame on you!

  • First, I’d like to clarify that I am a black female. Each year during Black History Month, several schools and churches present Black History Programs whose focus is primarily upon the Civil Rights Movement. My church is one such church. Since I attend a church whose members are predominantly black, the participants in the play are blacks playing KKK roles. The cast who portray KKK members wear sheets and hoods to increase the effectiveness of their roles. We, as the all black audience, have no problems with the black cast putting on sheets and robes. So, why should we get bent out of shape when white cast members put on sheets and robes for the same purpose? Let us be careful not to become the people that we are so quick to criticize-RACISTS!! What would Dr. King think?

  • Anonymous

    It is undeniable that the KKK garb is offensive.

    I am troubled, however, by what I perceive as a tendency to jump to righteous judgment and condemnation of what seems to be a well-intentioned teacher who was employing a somewhat unorthodox approach to engage students in learning about and discussing racism and U.S. history.
    I worry that the unintended consequence of this kind of reaction is to continue to stifle attempts, imperfect and messy as they may be, to grapple honestly with our shared history.

    Instead of constructive and capacity-building discussions about intent versus impact and how different perspectives can arise from different historical contexts, I am concerned that the message we reinforce is that race and racism are simply too loaded and fraught with danger to be discussed openly.

    Once again, we end up talking past each other.

  • It is hard for me to believe that any black female or male would would to re-act a part of history that was cruel and difficult for blacks in America. I also can not understand why we need to dress the part of ignorance no matter what shape it comes in.

    History should not be repeated nor should stupidity. I guess you would agree that the Race Riots of the 1960 should be allowed to be re-acted as well. What is our world coming to.

  • Anonymous

    As a former high school teacher and a Human Resources professional for the last 23 years, I am appalled that a not only would a teacher allow this, but encourage and support it. She needs to be removed from our educational system.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the thoughtful comments of the last two who posted. I think back to when I was a high school student in the 1960s, we did not study World War II. It was embarrassing to find out about WWII Japanese internment from my Japanese friend in college. It may be that the KKK costumes are still too emotionally provocative for black people and should not have been used. But I wouldn’t want to scare teachers away from having students learn about unpleasant parts of history, lest we repeat the mistakes of the past.
    Recently I’ve noticed among my colleagues a devaluing of the importance of historical knowledge — the sense that “we don’t have time for that.” I find this very troubling.

  • Anonymous

    The KKK and heinous acts they perpetrated on African Americans during this part of our recent past is a painful thread in the fabric of our American heritage. In fact these cowards still exist and their philosophy must be exposed. While this activity may not have been properly executed, my perception from this article is that the teacher was well-intentioned and that she created a teachable moment for all of the students. We watch movies all the time with depictions of the clan, why not get our children to examine racism and convey it through a reenactment? For many, films are the only means by which we have any knowledge of this part of our past. Its too bad this re-enactment wasn’t the subject of a school assembly prior to the actual filming. Its too bad the African American students didn’t see it as an opportunity to tell their story rather than viewing it as insulting. We are doomed to repeat our failures without passionate and patient dialogue that leads to reconciliation. Maybe next year, they can focus on how the two races came together and to abolish slavery and later unjust Jim Crow and other segregation laws.

  • I am not surprise that the teacher surpported it.I know of a black student who was always racially abused by his teachers is class.Despite the fact that the evidence was clear,during the case some kind of tactics were used by the defendant’s lawyers and the student lost the case,and the teachers were free.

  • Anonymous

    Had the project been disclosed, in advance, administrators might have enlisted buy in from the students and parents. They might have included participants who were later offended by requests. The teacher’s judgment may have been affected as she focused on the bravery it took to endorse a film about a volatile subject.

  • Anonymous

    What exactly is the learning opportunity in dressing up in KKK robes? Is it to understand the fear it invokes in others or to understand the power that fear gave to KKK members? I find it interesting that there are no black students in this class and that their perspective wasn’t even considered.

  • I think that we as Americans have to be able to discuss race openly and honestly instead of hiding behind being politically correct. The teacher should not be suspended or terminated, I think that she was actually trying to do her job and “teach”. Yes I am an African American female who deals with racist views often.

  • I have 4 adult children. Three were fortunate enough to have the same social studies/history teacher in middle school. Her method of teaching was similar to that of the two teachers whose teaching style is under intense scrutiny but her subject matter (at the time) wasn’t nearly so emotionally charged. For a whole year this teachers students would study in group activities various peoples and their histories. During the course of these studies they would do a great deal of play-acting culminating in dressing up at the end of a segment and acting out a moment of the history they had been studying. My children came away with a much more in-depth appreciation for those topics because they had been engaged in their learning. One topic that they spent nearly 1/3 of the year on was Islam. They learned about culture and history and even did ongoing role-playing culminating in a pilgrimage to Mecca. This was before 9/11. Would that topic now also be too taboo to see the light of day?
    While I believe that the teachers should have involved the rest of the school, or at least informed them of the project their students were working on, I don’t see how we will EVER get a handle on wiping out Racism if we can’t even talk about it without offending people. Watching something (film, documentary, etc) is rarely as involving as DOING something and I, for one, applaud these teachers’ attempt to make that dark time in our country’s history something their students will never forget!

  • Anonymous

    After reading all the comments I really agree witht the earlier ones. Do we really need to wear Nazi uniforms and swasticas to study aobut World War II and Nazism? Or reeanact lynchings and Klan meeting to understand racismin US history? This behavior see to reinforce and may lend a kind of macabre ligitimacy to terrors from the past.(eg A white student asking ablack friend if they’d mind being lynched for the Klan renactment… Oh Please).
    It is distinctly different to study religion or cultur orr more nuetral histocal event through acting because then we are placing children in roles that are socailly acceptable to safe for all to explore rather than ones we hold collectively as debased. I have a really hard time seeing the educational value in role playing figures an organization that represent such historical atrocities-I just don’t get it. If it had been my son who received the request to be lynched by his classmate-I would have sued the school.

  • It is so good to live in America. We can form our opinions and only be punished by contrasting opinions. So, I lend mines as well. History is history. You can’t change it, but you can add to it to make more history. Either we learn from its contents to prosper or do good, or we learn from it to do bad again. I didn’t read all the comments out here, but I read the story. I’m sure this isn’t the full story, but enough is given to intelligently comment on. We need to judge the teacher’s action by her know character. After we find that out, we need to know the purpose for the reenactment. It is my understanding that the teacher was trying to show a bad part of history, which never should be repeated by her students. I believe she did a good job given the fact that so many white people are upset about bringing this costume back into focus. Although perfect wisdom may not have been applied, I believe that reenacting a part of history is part of our hypocrit (name for the first leading actors) theatrical freedom. To say that acting this part of history will resurge the KKK is dumbfounded. But, this is just one Black Man’s opinion.

  • Anonymous

    I am a, soon to be 52 yer old, Black male who currently works a a predominantly white school of higher education. While I certainly can understand the need to teach history and I too am one who leans toward being creative , this teachers appears to have made a terrible error in judgement. Just seeing people wearing these robes could offend the students but could also stir some awful memories and feelings for some of the educators on that campus. I agree with an earlier writer who noted that he had never heard of Nazi uniforms being worn in school to highlight that particular part of world history. We must use care and be sensitive when we are trying to teach about a portion of our history that was tragic and still affects our society today. I do not know whether this teacher should be fired for using poor judgement but this could be a good teaching moment for her and the rest of the school.

  • Anonymous

    After reading all this I can see both sides. I know for myself in high school re reacted the boston massacre of the civil war. There are some people that learn better by doing then listening or reading. I know I very strong right brained and will always learn better doing something.
    As for the teacher yes she should of though it out more, but we as Americans with one of the most diversity countries out there need to move on from all things in the past. We should be able to look back on it with a new light not the one that it created. As some of the post I have seen from African Americans that have moved on it shows that they are the bigger people. Yes it happen get over it and be able to look back on it, with understanding of what not to do!

  • Anonymous

    I think the teacher used poor judgement and insensitivity in letting the students parade around in clothing that portrays such hatred and ignorance. She should have passed this idea of her to the administration before this action tooked placed. It it one thing to make us aware of history whether good or bad, but not demonstrate the same actions that have caused such separation. That being said, if she has been a good teacher beyond this slip of judgement I don’t think she should be fired.

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