Lessons on racism have a whole new meaning in public schools, and they’re popular among white educators.
A Shorewood Intermediate School teacher was instructing seventh-graders about games from around the world and separated the students by race.
One of the Black students, MaHailey Stephens, said she and her Black classmates were asked to research games from their cultures. The teacher reportedly told the students that she would help them research slave games.
“I went to my mom, I’m like, ‘mom, what are slave games?'” she said.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing. I never knew slaves had opportunities to play games,” said Dr. Reshunda Stephens, MaHailey’s mom.
Stephens said that the same teacher asked her older daughter to be part of “the colored club,” last year.
Another student, Alexis Averette, said she was forced to reenact slavery as a part of a presentation for their world games unit. Her father, Yuri Averette, spoke out about the teacher: “At this point.. we don’t want her here”.
The school is investigating and has placed the teacher on indefinite leave.
Jan Zehren, the teacher, has been teaching for 36 years.
The school superintendent told parents in part in a letter:
“We are committed to providing an environment of inclusion in our schools. We will continue to assess the situation and ensure that we provide ongoing support to our students as we move forward.”
While there is good in teaching children about those periods of history, Clayborn Benson, executive director of Wisconsin’s Black Historical Society, said to determine what’s appropriate you “have to ask the teacher what is his or her motive.”
Reenactment of Slavery in Classrooms
Lately white teachers inappropriately “educating” Black students about slavery seems to be on the rise.
Last week, a Des Moines, Iowa high school dropped a song about picking cotton they had made students practice for a spring concert after a parent complained.
The song includes the lyrics, “Gonna jump down/ Turn around/ Pick a bale of cotton/ Gonna jump down/ Turn around/ Pick a bale a day.”
In September 2018, a white teacher in New York was fired for a controversial slavery lesson where she allegedly stepped on the backs of Black students she told to lay on the floor to experience how it was to be a slave. And she’s planning to file a $1 billion class action case against New York City with other teachers claiming discrimination.
The Need for Training White Teachers
Most teachers (about 80 percent) in the US are white and female and they are the majority of teaching staff in schools that have majority Black and brown students. Studies also show that segregation among teachers is frequent. A 2011 report estimated over 40 percent of public schools do not employ a single teacher of color. Most teachers of color are two to three times more likely than white teachers to work in disadvantaged schools. There just isn’t that many of them.
Bettina L. Love an associate professor of educational theory and practice at the University of Georgia, wrote in an essay about race in America, called “Dear White Teachers: You Can’t Love Your Black Students If You Don’t Know Them”:
“Teachers who disregard the impact of racism on Black children’s schooling experiences, resources, communities, and parent interactions will do harm to children of color. This ignorance is not just a painful sign of a blatant lack of information—a function of racism is to erase the history and contributions of people of color—it is a dangerous situation as these teachers go on to take jobs in schools filled with Black and Brown children. This turns schools into places that mirror society instead of improving it. The hard truth is that racism functions as a ‘superpredator’ of Black and Brown children within our schools.”
In addition to recruiting more teachers of color, which she says would help students confront racism, Love says to train white teachers differently.
”Future teachers should be required to take classes such as African studies, African-American studies, Latinx studies, Caribbean studies, Chicana/o studies, Asian and Southeast Asian studies, and Native American studies.”