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A celebration of Black History month at the Expo Arts Center

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Unfortunately, Black History Month seems to bring out the ignorance in some teachers or, at least, the insensitivity. In recent years, some school lessons have received national attention for their traumatic or problematic approach to teaching Black history. Check out some of the most troubling examples below.

1. Students were forced to “pick cotton and lay” on a dirty floor while pretending they “were slaves” (2020).

According to app., the mayor of Pine Beach, New Jersey, Lawrence Cuneo, also serves as a Toms River middle school social studies teacher. According to a student’s social media post, Cuneo forced his students to “pick cotton and lay” on a dirty floor while “pretending we were slaves.” As kids acted out the scene, Cuneo made a “cracking” whip sound over the students and kicked their feet, according to the social media post.

In an email to the radio station New Jersey 101.5 and a subsequent letter to the Asbury Park Press, Cuneo tried to defend his actions saying he was demonstrating a “degrading and despicable” institution in American history. However, he said he regretted the move if anyone felt offended.

“Slavery existed within our country and the lessons learned, even if uncomfortable, need to be told,” Cuneo said. “At no time was my intention to harm the sensitivities of any student. If this lesson did that, I apologize to those affected.”

2. Students were asked, “To keep their slaves subservient, plantation owners should” with a series of blank bullet points for youngsters to fill in (2020).

A Tennessee school district dismissed a student-teacher after the young instructor taught a Black History Month lesson to fourth-graders that forced them to “fill in the blank” with traumatic incidents of slavery, according to NBC News.

The student-teacher’s lesson plan, passed out to kids at Waverly Belmont Elementary School in Nashville, revolved around the notorious 1712 speech by slave owner William Lynch called “The Making of a Slave,” according to officials.

After reading the material, in which Lynch advocated for psychological and physical torture of slaves, students were asked, “To keep their slaves subservient, plantation owners should” with a series of blank bullet points for students to fill in.

The class’ full-time teacher was also present during the lesson and he was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the Metro School’s investigation into the matter. The student teacher was “asked not to return to Waverly-Belmont as a result of teaching material that was not age appropriate or within the scope of sequence for the 4th grade class,” read a statement by Metro Nashville Public Schools.

The student-teacher was a Black female student from nearby Vanderbilt University, according to district spokesman Sean Braisted.

3. Students were asked to simulate the Underground Railroad (2019).

According to The Washington Post, students in an elementary school physical education class were taught about the Underground Railroad. Then, the Virginia students were divided into groups of six and were responsible for overcoming a physical obstacle such as maneuvering through plastic hoops without knocking them over, according to Wayde Byard, a spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools.

Eventually, the school issued an apology for such a game. “It trivializes something that is important,” Byard said. “There was an error made here… Slavery is not a game.”

According to the school system, the game was supposed to demonstrate teamwork, communication and cooperation. Byard said students weren’t assigned the role of slaves, however, the president of the NAACP’s Loudoun branch, Michelle Thomas, said that outside of abolitionists, there couldn’t be any other role the kids could play in an Underground Railroad simulation. 


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