There are a lot of great, hardworking teachers out there. There are also a bunch of teachers who seem to see the classroom as a place to work out their own issues. Teachers are people, and a lot of people are racist. A woman named Trameka Brown-Berry shared a homework assignment her son, Jerome, brought home from school illustrating exactly that.
Brown-Berry posted a photo the assignment questions Jerome was asked to answer. For context, he’s only in the fourth grade. The worksheet demands that he give three “good” reasons for slavery and three bad ones. Good is in quotes, I guess to indicate that they wouldn’t really be good reasons? Which is a red flag the teacher should have paid attention to. If you already think your question is stupid enough to need qualifiers, don’t ask it.
Young Jerome responded by saying there was no good reason for enslaving people, and in the bad category listed a number of potential abuses suffered by men, women, and children under American slavery, including being beaten and separated from their families. His second answer clearly shows why his first answer is correct; there was nothing good about it.
BuzzFeed Newsreports that the teacher works in Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, and the worksheet was part of a social studies assignment. Brown-Berry isn’t mad that he was asked to discuss slavery, but how Jerome was asked to talk about it.
“It was the fact that she wanted my African-American son to name three good things for slavery. That’s insulting,” Brown-Berry told local news affiliate WESH 2.
The school attempted to explain the question as a misunderstanding, offering this statement:
“We understand that, as presented, the words used showed a lack of sensitivity and were offensive. The purpose of the assignment was not, in any way, to have students argue that ANY slavery is acceptable — a concept that goes against our core values and beliefs about the equality and worth of people of all races.”
But folks on Facebook are not having it. Some seem to think that it was just a poor choice of words on the teacher’s part, and she actually meant what advantages slaveowners might have seen to owning slaves, making them defend such a brutal and horrendous system. But that’s a pretty complicated idea to boil down and describe as “good” reasons for slavery. People were mad:
Brown-Berry’s Facebook post attracted a lot of attention, and she recently posted a follow up saying that the teacher and school’s principal had offered a formal apology. They’re also going to be making some changes:
According to Brown-Berry, the assignment will be removed from the curriculum, and any future homework on sensitive topics will be sent home to parents first.
Teachers will also be “trained in a cultural diversity/ cultural competency inservice” in an effort to prevent this sort of thing from occurring again, at least at this school.
“The moral of the story is, the only way to teach our kids to stand up for their rights and respect is to model it. With all of your support I was able to give my child a personal life lesson about how change starts with you,” she concluded.
And Jerome seems to be doing fine. At the end of the original assignment, he finished by writing, “I am proud to be black because we are strong and brave.” A strong, brave kid, with a strong, brave mother.