A seventh-grade teacher in a New York City suburb taped the hands of two black students and told the girls to crawl under their desks to simulate the horrible conditions endured by enslaved Africans on their journey to America. One girl had volunteered; the other had not. Trouble ensued.
The teacher should be fired immediately for racism and/or stupidity, writes blogger Sharon McEachern at Ethics Soup.
I disagree. Certainly, it was unwise to re-enact slavery with an unwilling student. But it was hardly enough to end a career.
I also think it’s a very inadequate way to get kids to understand the Middle Passage, which was infinitely worse than lying under a desk. In my youth as an assistant to a curriculum writer, I read an account of the voyage by an African who’d escaped slavery and taught himself to read and write. It made me cry. I was assigned to rewrite the ex-slave’s story in simple English so that 20th century students in California Youth Authority (juvenile prison) schools could read it. I felt like crying about that too.
For many years, a Palo Alto High teacher used re-enactments to teach history. Each year, ninth graders were marched out of world history class by older students dressed as Gestapo to see scenes from The Diary of Anne Frank. Everyone knew it was coming and yet every year some students were very upset when the Nazis “arrested” the Jews. This story includes two of my daughter’s friends, one of whom played a Nazi and was upset by it. Nobody thought it was anti-Semitic. Last year, the principal objected to a re-enactment of the Black Death; the teacher has taken a leave of absence.