KKK Assignment Asks Fifth Graders to Explain Justification of Racism

“You are there … You are a member of the KKK. Why do you think your treatment of African Americans is justified?” the assignment asks.

REUTERS

A fifth grade teacher in South Carolina has been placed on administrative leave after asking her students to provide a justification for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan.

Tremain Cooper, an uncle of one of the students who received the assignment, identified the teacher on Facebook as Kerri Roberts, who gave the assignment at Oak Pointe Elementary School. Cooper posted a picture of the assignment and said it brought his 10-year-old nephew to tears.

“HOW CAN SHE ASK A 5TH GRADER TO JUSTIFY THE ACTIONS OF THE KKK???” Cooper wrote.

FB Post Removed

The original post appears to have been taken down. Below is a screengrab of the assignment:

The assignment also asks students to identify the KKK’s “Purpose and Motivation” and “Effects on Opportunities of African Americans.”

“I felt bad for my nephew because he was emotional,” Cooper said to NBC Charlotte. “He had become upset because he thought he may get in trouble because he wasn’t able to complete his assignment.”

He called the incident “heartbreaking” for his family but told NBC Charlotte that he hoped the Facebook post would “bring attention to the larger issue.”

“I believe the conversation needs to be elevated,” he explained to the outlet. “I want the conversation to be centered around including more Black male and female teachers in the classroom.”

Oak Pointe is a part of Lexington & Richland County School District Five. Katrina Goggins, a spokeswoman for the district, said in a statement to The New York Times, “South Carolina standards for fifth grade require lessons on Reconstruction and discriminatory groups, including the KKK. We must teach the standard, but we are taking steps to ensure this particular assignment will never be used again in District Five schools.”

Goggins confirmed to The Times that Roberts had been placed on leave but did not specify whether it was paid or not, the publication noted.
The South Carolina Department of Education website provides standards for students based on grade level and subject. Fifth grade social studies are asked to “demonstrate an understanding of Reconstruction and its impact on the United States.”

“Explain the purpose and motivations of subversive groups during Reconstruction and their rise to power after the withdrawal of federal troops from the South,” the guidelines state.

The outline also specifies what is and is not essential for students to know. For what is essential, the standards mandate:

“During the Reconstruction period several discriminatory groups developed in order to intimidate the freedmen. The most infamous of these was the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). Originally the KKK was a social organization of ex-Confederate soldiers, but it soon grew into a terrorist group. The goal of the KKK was to use violence, intimidation, and voter fraud to keep African Americans from exercising their rights under the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments so that whites could regain control of state governments.”

It does not suggest students need to rationalize the actions of the KKK. In fact, the guidelines for what is not essential state:

“Students do not need to know details about the origins of the Klan and other groups such as the Knights of the White Camellia, or details about their methods of intimidation. Although students do not need to memorize a definition of terrorism, they should understand that terrorism is a term used to describe violence or other harmful acts committed or threatened against citizens by groups of persons for political or ideological goals.”

The Facebook post from a student’s uncle received nearly 300 comments and was shared over 500 times. It also generated mixed responses to the assignment. Some people agreed that it was inappropriate and called for Roberts’ termination:

“This is crazy she needs to be terminated”

“Teacher teaching hate this needs to be stopped”

“They are to (sic) young to be taught this”

“What in the world……”

“Fire her”

One commenter identified herself as a mother whose children used to attend Oak Pointe and said, “we had a race issue with this school before.”

One man suggested that the assignment was meant to foster critical thinking skills.

“Coming from a family who’s parents grew up in Charleston, SC during the Civil Rights movement they’ve (more so my father than my mother) always presented me with questions like these to prepare me for the world as a African American man living in America even in elementary school,” he wrote, in part.

Cooper, the student’s uncle who made the post, responded, “There has to be better ways than this assignment. This assignment didn’t accomplish that.”

Another man wrote, “Y’all are f*cking stupid. She’s trying to reach your kids how to get the bigger picture not justifying the actions of the kkk. She’s asking that if you were there, in that time, as a member of the kkk, what justifies your actions toward African Americans. And how regardless of the situation it was wrong.”

A user responded, “I’m just wondering .. what should some of the children’s responses be? If you were that age what would your response be? The issue is there is no justification for what that party did to African Americans so what could these kids possibly come up with? Do you feel like it the teacher is saying there is some form of justification to their actions? #healthydiscussionplease.”

Irmo, S.C., where Oak Pointe is located, is located just outside of Columbia. Its population is about 64 percent white, 27.5 percent Black, 5.5 percent Latino, 1.8 percent two or more races, 1.6 percent Asian, and less than one percent American Indian as well as Native Hawaiian.

Related Story

Teacher Fired for Controversial Racial Assignment

Teacher Fired for Controversial Racial Assignment

Questions asking how comfortable students are around Blacks, Muslims, gays and other groups sparked a debate on how to teach about racism in schools — if at all.

Roberts is not the first teacher to be penalized for a racial school assignment. Earlier this year a Florida teacher was fired after giving her middle school students an assignment asking how they would feel around certain racial, religious and other groups of people.

Questions ask students to rate 1 to 4 how comfortable they are in certain situations, with 1 being “Not Comfortable at All” and 4 being “Completely Comfortable.”

Scenarios listed include:

A group of young Black men are walking toward you on the street.
A fellow RA is paraplegic.
Your new suitemates are Mexican.
Your women studies instructor is a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf and full length robe.
The young man sitting next to you on the airplane is Arab.
A friend invites you to go to a gay bar.
A homeless man approaches you and asks for change.
Your family buys a home in a predominantly Black neighborhood.

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47 comments


  • So exactly when are we supposed to talk about this stuff? That young man is most assuredly be discriminated against because of the color of his skin and has probably already been called a n*****. He should be a part of the conversation. This teacher is trying to encourage critical thinking and through conversation, teach. Someone in that class thinks there is a justification for what the KKK does. This might have been just the assignment to teach them that there is NO justification for what they do. There may be a child in the class that takes the conversation home and changes the mind of at least one person in their family. Stop acting like bringing it up is a horrible thing. We should start being concerned when people start talking about it.

    • You don’t ask fifth-graders this question, you teach them. Fifth-graders do not have the critical thinking or life experience for this assignment. I wouldn’t ask a child to “image they are in the KKK” at any age. It’s just wrong.

      • How do you teach if you can’t have a conversation about it? This subject is not one that you can stand at the front of the class and talk AT the kids. Even in the fifth grade a certain level of critical thinking occurs. I wish my child’s fifth grade teach had asked a question like this. It’s a great opportunity for the home and at school. We can’t keep dumbing things down because we think kids don’t understand. They understand more than we give them credit for. My point was that we can’t continue to be outraged when the subject comes up. We have to be able talk about it. There are families out there that are almost forced to have conversations about racism and bigotry at an early age. Don’t get stuck on the grade…

        • We disagree. Fifth-graders are not sophisticated/experienced/cognitively developed enough to have this conversation – in this format. Look at the answers on the assignment pictured in the article. There’s no way a 10 year old has the sophistication to imagine himself as a member of the KKK. Especially a Black child.

          Where we agree is the need to educate children about racism, sexism, etc. I think we agree that a healthy sense reality and knowledge of the world is important for a fifth grader.

          • I can live with that. I think everyone is assuming that the question is asking him to answer as though it’s HIM (present day). I could be that the question could have simply been answered by giving the appropriate information provided in the text book.

            I appreciate the work you do, the things you bring to our attention and the perspective you give Luke. Keep doing what you’re doing.

          • tracey rankin

            i think the assignment is valuable. i think it is a good way to help students think critically about cultural issues. im not sure fifth graders have that ability but i wouldnt fire the teacher.

        • I think the issue is how do you discuss this and related topic. One size most certainly does not fit all. From the onset, it has to be age appropriate and that’s not what occurred in this particular instance.

    • Yes, he probably had or soon will be called one, and black parents have been preparing their children for what awaits them ever since Plymouth rock landed on us.

      However, to basically toss a writing assignment at kids of this age group was totally inappropriate.

      Even I, as an adult, would read the questions and have difficulty deciding exactly what was expected AND given the crap I read daily on the internet, I would be very suspect as to the exact motivation of the teacher.

      Am I to humiliate myself writing to this white woman? I know exactly what and why racist whites believe they are justified.

      Is a 10 year old expected to take a position of an adult, who justifies their racism and then clarify and justify that point of view, too? How does that serve a 10 year old developing child?

      Should he write, because we’re subhuman? Mongrels? Mud people? 3/5th human? Because the Bible justifies it? Because whites are simply superior? Maybe because we’re eggplants, porch monkeys, apes, spear-chuckers, darkies, pickaninnies, alligator bait? How about Aunt Sallys, Aunt Jemimas, Uncle Bens? Rubies, Saphhires, and hot mamas? What about because we’re crows, darkies, black sambos, gangbangers, crackheads, criminals, fatherless?

      What would your thesis be? Are *you* one of those? Can *you* play devil’s advocate? Would you? How would you feel at the end?

      At 10, he is supposed to repeat in writing all the reasons they give about his own self?

      Or maybe the child could have written what was recently posted here about the Facebook posting of an Ohio fireman – he’d save a dog from a burning building because 1 dog is worth more than 1 million niggers.

      You don’t ask children, especially little black children, to write about that, but you can lead an age appropriate, sensitive class discussion. Hell, why not just have the class scroll through comments on social media.

      The assignment, the wording of the assignment, and the format in which it was given was totally inappropriate for this age group.

  • Heavens – to 5th Graders??? I believe the assignment could be valuable to college students – for studying where people’s perspectives and approaches come from, is important to having any hope of conversation. This to me, would be part of white people teaching white people – a challenge that comes often from people in the Black community, who are so often given the entire task of teaching white people about their culture and history, and study of perspectives and values and history is a task for all adults, not needing to be led always by Black people, though to be accurate and relevant, some Black participation and checking needs to be involved.

    Asking such an assignment could be helpful, because we often assume our perspectives are self-evident, and yet people who were not brought up the same way, do not learn any quicker if they feel others have ganged up to agree that they are wrong – it matters to listen and reflect. it is still possible at the end, to insist on covering the impact of different people and perspectives, for there is only one side, I believe, when it comes to fairness, respect, kindness, support – all of which were routinely denied African Americans for centuries, setting up situations of enduring harm.

    But making time to listen as different people talk of their upbringings and loyalties is not time wasted. No human sees an entire picture, and we all know only what we know. Many have not seen damage done by errors or malice, do not see where views are wrong. But empathy and efforts to understand across differences, makes a difference to conversations. We are all humans with cares and feelings, memories and loyalties – part of diversity training is exactly to hear stories from people we find alien, wrong, or just very different. Empathy helps conversations that lead to people reflecting and making new efforts to learn and improve our ability to talk and increase familiarity – so it does matter to hear all people’s stories, even if at the end it must be said that the perspectives of some, did great damage.

      • I’d have to agree with you on this one. This assignment requires critical thinking using life experiences armed with some historical knowledge. The teacher is posing the problem first implying 5th graders are to identify and conduct backward timeline analysis to racial and socio-economic decision points and benchmarks involving government, education, religion, African American culture, White Anglo Saxon American culture, finance and business into a confined answer applicable to all or more than what I listed. This is definitely a collegiate level question requiring a scholarly response. This approach is an adult learning model tool used for students possessing life experiences.

        But God Bless the 5th grader that can give a better answer than the teacher. That’s a genius in my book.

      • agree this may have been too intense for 5th graders……….although this generation is more advance than previous. Not sure if I totally agree to wait until upper classes in college to have this discussion or type of assignment. Most at that age are set in their thought processes.. I would think in High school. Not defending educator but I think I see what they were attempting to accomplish. Just think maybe too soon. As a society we must stop being afraid to discuss the tough subjects.

        • The teacher could have used an analogy for this age group to point out prejudices and how they’re wrong – use a playground analogy or a softball team or something.

          • Or perhaps they can discuss the morality of having a statue (on state capital grounds) of Governor “pitcfork” Ben Tillman, a man who bragged about killing Black men. Re-elected by the white people of South Carolina to the Senate until he died.

  • Do they wait until 5th grade to teach racism? If you think they don’t teach them from the womb, you are sadly mistaken. I look at that as a critical thinking assignment, where there were really no wrong answers, but a way to bring the conversation into the classroom. That’s the problem with overly sensitive people; they are just waiting to jump on something like this as an assignment, but have no problem if it came down to letting them watch you standing in line for hours for some darn Jordan’s! This indeed was a missed opportunity. Instead of that coward of an uncle squealing and whining about it, he could have helped his nephew with the assignment. He could have helped him to navigate through it. Then again, maybe he didn’t have a clue on how to help, so all he could do is cry to Facebook about it. If anything, he could have at least told him, “There is no justification for racism!” Why do we wait so late to help our children?

    • I don’t think its “overly sensitive” to be hugely offended by this assignment. And I don’t think it’s analogous to be tasked with imagining you’re in the KKK or waiting on line for athletic shoes. Especially in South Carolina, home of cop delivered Burger King for Dylann Roof.

      I don’t think this assignment “helps” children, it baits the spawn of people who use the n-word at home to assume KKK racism is legitimate thinking.

    • No one is being overtly sensitive. And your analogy is ridiculous.

      The intent/description of the curriculum was actually okay. However, the execution of it was totally wrong.

      Here’s an assignment: How about a curriculum in a predominately white school district to answer the question of why the NAACP, the Black Panthers, historically black colleges, Ebony magazine, BET, the civil rights movement, and Black Lives Matter, etc. came into being?

      Here’s some suggested essay questions:

      What was/is it about American society, you know land of the free, home of the brave, apple pie, and baseball, the great melting that gave rise to black colleges and black organizations? Couldn’t black people just go to any college? Live anywhere? Get any job they were qualified for? Vote? Get an equal education? If not, why not?

      Image yourself black living in the Jim Crow south back in the 1920’s. How would you feel? What would your life be like? Give details.

      Suppose a family member was beaten, lynched, burned and skinned alive (and not necessarily in that order) and afterward everyone took pictures, how do you think you’d feel about that? What about if your sister was blow up in a church by a terrorist group sworn against people like you? What if you had to sit in the back of the bus? What if in movies you were always depicted as stupid, lazy, and shuffling? How would you feel?

      Your unarmed dad, during a routine traffic stop, is shot by the cops. What’s your reaction?

      You’re driving through an all white neighborhood, unfortunately for you, you’re black. A cop begins following you. He turns on his lights. Recently, there have been a spate of cops shooting black civilians. You’re scared. What to you do?

      I think that’s a great elementary school assignment. Should give them white kids something to digest and really develop those critical thinking skills. Everyone knows that white kids are really tough and can take pain because their skin is extra thick and they look like adults anyway.

      Maybe putting them in the “other’s” shoes would help prevent them from sitting around on their lazy butts later in life, whining and blaming everyone else for their lot in life and joining stupid racist groups and instead become productive members of society.

      Critical thinking skills would have helped a lot of people recognize the current conman in the white house for what it is.

      Yeah, I’m all for developing the critical thinking skills of white people. Maybe they’ll stop voting against their own interests trying to hurt everyone else.

      Critical thinking skills – not just for black people. They’re for white people, too!

    • Like…I am confused as to what Jordan sneakers have to do with this conversation? Randomly bringing up people standing in line/paying for shoes sounds anti-black and classist to me, both things that can be practiced by non-blacks AND black people.

      (clearly this is something you disagree with, and decided to express this in a topic about racism despite the fact that all types of people stand in line to buy all types of over-priced things)

  • There is no justification for the actions of the Ku Klux Klan. This assignment belongs in an Abnormal Psychology class, not 5th Grade.

    • Granny, I agree 100%.

      There is no justification! But of course that’s not going to be the answer of a 10-year-old.

      It upset me just THINKING about the answers a bunch 10-year olds would give to such a question. But even more so, the idea of little black kids having to answer that question, or worse still, potentially having to listen to little white kids read their answers out loud, fills me with rage.

      At best, all this question would do, is just elicit a bunch of offensive and hurtful “justifications” from grade-schoolers inappropriately asked to play pop psychologists.

      A better question would have been “Why are groups such as the KKK wrong, and what can we do get rid of prejudice”?

      I find it incomprehensible that a purported “educator”, couldn’t see the inappropriateness of such an “assignment”, and I actually question her intent in doing so.

      • My thoughts exactly.

        Was the “educator” that clueless or did she have her own racist intent in assigning these questions.

        • Or like Dylann Roof, did somebody manipulate them to do what they did. Remember, young Dylann had a flag of Rhodesia sown on his jacket. Take a good look at him, he’s barely functional, he wouldn’t recognize the flag of his own state. How did he get a flag of Rhodesia? Who put that on there for him?

      • The assignment itself is based on the false and misleading premise that justification even exists for the KKK’s actions. The following question — asking students to assume the perspective of a “freedman” — only compounds the problem, in my opinion, as it, wrongly, suggests some type of moral equivalency between the KKK member and a freedman. If President Trump cannot appreciate the wrongfulness of such a comparison, it’s wholly unfair to expect 5th graders to. After all, isn’t the President supposed to be smarter than a 5th grader?

  • What is an appropriate time/age for children to learn about and understand racism? Why can’t students know and thoroughly understand racist organizations? Where if not at school should these matters be taught? When are Negroes going to stop being ashamed that they were the unjustified victims of a monetarily, cruel, vicious, totally uncivilized America societal act towards the Negro race due to the greed of men and women who believed they were and are superior to other races of people. Who bares the shame; mankind in whole does? Negroes should be doing everything possible to educate everyone about the ills of racism. If necessary, learn from the Jews. They are not ashamed of their holocaust. Jews want all of society to know about the evils of racism and their race has thrived while doing so as Jews hold their heads high. The Negro should do the same. Negroes were victims but they do not have to continue being the victims of racism.

    • Dee – Let me start with this…I am HIGHLY OFFENDED by your comments above. The term Negroes is extremely offensive and for the record…as a people, African Americans are continually victims of racism. It has not gone away…as a matter of fact, with the recent election of #45 as president, it has come to the surface again and has begun to bubble over. It feels like it’s open season on black people again. The difference is that they are killed at the hands of police officers and not the KKK, but then again, those police officers could be a part of the KKK…but that’s a different subject for a different day. I have conversations all the time about racism and it’s not a subject I’m afraid of. However, this article was about putting a 10-year old child in a situation to justify someone else’s stupidity, and that’s not justified. I have a lot more to say, but I’m just gone to leave it here…SAD…

      • I actually assumed that Dee was black. If she’s non-black, my comment still stands, however. Except my last 2 lines were specifically targeted toward black people.

        • I don’t think she’s Black. Other than Miss Jane Pittman, what Black person still uses the term “Negro”? And Miss Jane would never espouse those other sentiments. People who try to pit various historically-oppressed groups against each other — in this case “Negroes” vs. Jews — are nothing but trolls.

    • Really???

      Black people have been talking about racism since we got here.

      It’s time for white people to educate themselves.

      It’s time for white people to stop pretending they don’t know any better because they lived in an all white neighborhood. Or because grandma was a racist. Or uncle Bob was a bigot. Or they never met a black person.

      I call BS.

      The world isn’t that damned big. Somehow, I managed to make in through life getting to know all kinds of people.

      It’s the responsibility of white people to educate their damned selves. I’m sick of hearing excuses. The burden is on them. Not us. I’ve waited 65 years and apparently they’re still stupid.

      And you should stop buying into that crap. It’s really *not* our jobs to alleviate white people of their angst.

      Take your energies and put them back into yourself, your family, your community.

      And VOTE!!!!

      • Meh: As a white person, that’s why I’m here – to educate myself. I recognize I live in a white privilege bubble and since I’ve been coming to Diversity Inc, I hope that I’m starting to see and understand things that I never saw or understood before. I learn something everyday on this website. I now recognize that I used to say and do things that were never meant with any malice – I really just didn’t know any better because of the bubble I live in.

    • It is not the job of the oppressed to teach the oppressor. If a person belonging to a minority group wants to teach a person belonging to the majority, more power to them, but they are certainly not required. Their energy should be predominately focused on surviving in a society that does not allow them the same rights as human beings.

      The majority has all of the resources. The information is at their fingertips. They can read, just as I can. If they can read every Game of Thrones book, they can also read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. The question is: do they care enough? I think the answer is clear.

      Besides, if racists listened to us, racism would have been finished long ago. This KKK stuff…that is not *our* trash to take out.

    • It is very sad reading your comments. I think the one major difference between blacks and the Jews is that the Jews can pass, a black person can’t. A Jewish person have the choice to claim being a Jew if and when it suits them. Blacks do not have that as an option. When the Jews came to America they were welcomed, for the most part, they were charities that were in place to help them with work, housing, food, etc. while blacks were still being hung, beaten, still could not have jobs they were qualified for, unequal education, and the list goes on. Present day is not much better. We still have to constantly fight for our basic human rights. So, in the end, yes many blacks are still victims and there are some that can now consider themselves survivors; and even then, you have to still work twice as hard just to keep surviving. This is unjust on so many levels. Too many white associate all Blacks by what they see in the media (News, and Social) and not from any personal experience. Yes, I have seen kids and adults waiting in line for a new sneaker; I personally don’t understand it, but that’s not all Blacks, actually it is a very small minority of Blacks and I have also seen White kids in those lines as well. As a melting pot of various races, nationalities and religions, we need to become ONE people Americans…..sadly we have a long way to go.

      • Don’t fall for the diversionary tactics of those who would pit one oppressed group against another, or attempt to diminish one group’s suffering as somehow less severe than another’s.

  • 10 years old in not too early to ask a child to star thinking critically.

    But I would never place an assignment like this in front of a classroom of children.

    When is the right age, and what are the right venues, to have conversations about some heinous truths (like the KKK)?

  • Jane Elliott received the same criticism for her brown-eyes/blue-eyes lesson in her 3rd grade
    class. after MLK Jr. was killed. She even lost her job over it. She later became quite respected for it as her work grew over the next many years.

  • Marquis Greer

    Awesome Reading.. Critical thinking is a must and being open minded to a world that should teaches about other cultures is an amazing approach for students to think outside the box. However, that being said.. We shouldn’t teach racism or promote violence in a classroom. Our current president is bringing out the emotions and cowards to act out what they are thinking on different nationalities. Planting harmful seeds is a dangerous growth for your child and their future.

  • While I agree that children should learn this topics at a young age, I am not sure if this is the correct method. Perhaps others with more experience teaching young children have comment before me.
    I will note that living in Europe, I’ve found that children learn quite early about World War I and II. In the case of some of my family members, they had no choice but to constantly hear about it as small children, because their parents and grandparents were always talking about it. This was before the teachers broached the topic at school.
    I suppose this is a similar case for young black children — though I also know black parents who try and protect their children’s innocence for as long as possible. It can be quite demoralizing as a black child to find out how much of the world is anti-black.

    • I agree.

      What scares me is so many of our “public servants” – teachers, police, fireman, harbor such hate towards us. How can you work in a role that is meant to enrich and help society and believe that another race of people are not human solely because of the color their skin.

      • Police and fire departments and teachers are all closely held clubs benefiting generations of people serving in that profession.

        Like most closed societies, they are fearful of outsiders. Neo Nazi organizations (National Alliance, et al) have fought for footholds in local government such as police and fire departments, to gain legitimacy and to proselytize.

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