Despite it being Black History Month, White folks have been showing what appears to be their true colors. There has been a string of instances where White teachers have shown either their ignorance, insensitivity or both, when assigning homework or lessons that revisit the trauma and pain our ancestors had to endure during slavery.
Earlier this month, on Feb. 12, Lawrence Cuneo, the mayor of Pine Beach, New Jersey, who also serves as the social studies teacher at Toms River middle school gave his students an assignment where they were to “pick cotton and lay” on a dirty floor while “pretending we were slaves,” according app. While the students acted out the scene, Cuneo made the sound of a “cracking” whip over the kids’ heads and kicked their feet.
Cuneo went a step further and defended the tactless assignment, saying that he was simply trying to demonstrate a “degrading and despicable” institution in American history. He then expressed regret for those he offended.
A week prior, fourth graders at a Tennessee school were instructed to “fill in the blank” with traumatic incidents of slavery, according to a report from NBC News. The lesson at the Waverly Belmont Elementary School in Nashville was based on the speech slave owner Willie Lynch famously gave in 1712 titled, “The Making of a Slave.” After reading the speech, the students were then asked to “keep their slaves subservient, plantation owners should,” which was followed by a series of bullet points, requiring the students to provide an answer.
The assignment was administered by a student-teacher however, the full-time teacher was present during the lesson. The teacher was placed on leave pending an investigation into the matter. The student-teacher was asked not to return to the school “as a result of teaching material that was not age appropriate or within the scope of sequence for the 4th grade class,” the Metro Nashville Public Schools said in a statement.
According to the school’s district spokesman, the student-teacher was a Black woman, who studied at Vanderbilt University.
Nonetheless, the aforementioned assignments are unacceptable and, in an effort, to explore the rationale behind these disastrous assignments, NewsOne spoke with Dr. Gerald Horne, who holds the Moores Professorship of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston.
“I think it’s a reflection of the shift to the right politically in the United States, which presupposes a certain diminishing of political consciousness, presupposes a lack of familiarity even among teachers with the fundamentals and basics,” Dr. Horne said. “Not only a pedagogy, but of African American studies and obviously it is very troubling and concerning.”
In order to eliminate these instances from happening, Dr. Horne suggested that, similar to lawyers who have to “engage in continuing legal education in order to maintain your bar membership,” teachers should “have a similar process, whereby they would have to have refresher courses in their discipline, which would also involve them getting raises, perhaps, in terms of their successful completion of these refresher courses.”
Dr. Horne, however, reiterated that these instances have an underlying political tone. “In order for this to change, in order for there to be root and grass change, there needs to be the building of a movement. Not unlike the movement that forced the retreat of Jim Crow in the 1960s in the first instance, in order for us to ensure that these kinds of disturbing incidents no longer occur,” he added.