A Texas mother is rightfully upset about an assignment that her daughter was given to do for her seventh-grade social studies class. The controversial assignment requires students to “draw a picture of yourself as a slave,” in order to more clearly understand slavery during the Civil War. The school is defending the assignment, claiming it fosters ’empathy.’
The concerned parent, Tonya Jennings, vocalized that the assignment is highly inappropriate, and that, “There’s nothing about slavery that I would want any child, regardless of color, to have to relive.”
Jennings’ twelve-year-old daughter attends Four Points Middle School in Austin, where her teacher determined that the assignment was necessary “to teach empathy for those affected by the tragedy of slavery.”
The Leander Independent School District explained that the assignment was “relevant” and was designed appropriately considering the “sensitive content.”
Spokesman Matt Mitchell further added that Texas Education Agency designated curriculum for each grade and that the Civil War is to be covered in seventh grade.
However, the issue is not about what was taught, but about how it was presented, which is what makes it offensive.
The three-step assignment requires that students “draw a picture of yourself as a slave,” “color the picture,” and write a sentence covering what the student would experience if they were a Civil War era slave, referencing all five senses. It does not include feeling or thinking as things to consider, despite the assignment striving for empathy.
The specified “color the picture” instruction is also controversial, as students with limited knowledge of slavery may associate African American slaves as the only type of slavery when history shows otherwise.
The instructions which require preteens to visualize living an enslaved life for a moment is understandably not appropriate for this level of education, if any, yet the school claims that this is the first time the assignment has been questioned.
Jennings, however, is very clear in explaining why the assignment should not have been given. In addition to the “Making Sense With the Senses” drawing assignment being controversial, she also points out that it does not correlate with the rest of the informational packet that includes information about the Civil War.
Rather, it is the only mention of slavery in the packet and does not provide students any other information to which they can reference.
Jennings adds that there are only two African American students in the seventh-grade class and that her daughter is one of them. However, this is irrelevant, considering that the assignment was not appropriate for any of the students, race aside, which she acknowledges. Parents and students of all nationalities are right to be offended.
More importantly, as one critic of the assignment points out, it promotes “white guilt,” where Caucasians are encouraged to feel personally responsible for inequalities imposed by their ancestors that enslaved many throughout history.
History lessons which cover sensitive topics, especially violence among races, must be taught impartially for the benefit of all students.
Many educators have realized this and follow guidelines accordingly. For example, the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission is responsible for curriculum given to teachers about how to cover such material.
While it may seem unnecessary to create a board for each sensitive topic covered in school, the assignment that was given out at Four Points Middle School illustrated that with liberal teachers pushing their agendas in today’s politically correct climate, it may be necessary.
Jennings has reported that she will meet with school district officials next Monday to make suggestions as to how to better present Civil War and slavery curriculum. This is obviously embarrassing for the district and school that professional educators could not develop an unbiased curriculum on their own and that a parent has to intervene in determining a solution.
Admittedly, it is not hard, as all that the school must do is present facts and refrain from assignments which involve children putting themselves in the shoes of others in history who have experienced social injustices.
Prior to reaching out to the school, Jennings reported that she considered the assignment and what its goal was in teaching students about slavery. However, she was unable to determine the assignment’s value as an educational tool.
While parents are often quick to scrutinize teachers’ methods and are sometimes offended by petty things, this situation is not of that nature. It is shocking that no other parents have come before Jennings in her complaint of the inappropriate assignment. Thanks to her vigilance in overseeing her daughter’s education and attention to detail, students may receive more relevant and less offensive history lessons.