BY ALEXANDER WILLIS
A teacher at Whitthorne Middle School in Columbia is facing backlash from parents after the discovery that they had tasked students with an assignment that involved answering discussion questions as if they were slave owners.
In photographs taken from inside the school, some of the papers read “would you rather be a slave or be shot and killed,” and “if you are a slave owner and one of your slaves is doing nothing what should the punishment be?” Some of the answers to the latter question, which appear to be written by students, include “whip him” and “kill him.”
Holly Thompson, a mother of a student at Whitthorne Middle School, said she was dumbstruck by the assignment. Thompson said that after learning of the incident at Sunset Middle School on Facebook, she had asked her son what he had been learning in school lately.
“He goes on to tell me about this assignment and how they were asked would they rather be shot or be a slave; he wrote that he’d rather be shot,” Thompson said. “Then [he] was saying that another one of the questions was, ‘what punishment would you give a slave for escaping,’ and I said ‘well, what was your answer?’ He said, ‘I wanted to write nothing, but I knew my teacher would be mad at me because she told all of us we couldn’t write nothing, that we had to write a punishment.’”
Thompson said that the assignment was wildly inappropriate given the fact that many of the school’s students are minorities – including her son, who is biracial.
“The problem with it is that black children shouldn’t be subjected to that,” Thompson said. “Their families were raped and killed, and [now they] have to think about how should they have been punished? It’s just a question that my child, at 11 years-old, should not have to answer. There’s so many other things of Black History Month they should have been teaching him. Maybe it could have been asked differently, [such as], ‘what would have happened to a slave if they would have done this,’ not what would you have done.”
In response, communications specialist for Maury County Schools, Kim Dodridge, issued a written response.
“On Tuesday, February 12, it was brought to the attention of Whitthorne Middle School Principal Lance Evans that there was one classroom with a Black History Month lesson where students made posters of discussion questions that could be controversial,” Dodridge wrote. “The posters were removed that day. On Friday, March 1, Principal Evans was made aware of a parent’s post on Facebook about the student lesson and posters. He was contacted by two parents that same day who were concerned about the contents of the lesson and he spoke with each.”
“Principal Evans communicated with all teachers the next school day, Monday, March 4, instructing them to make sure all classroom materials are properly vetted for age appropriateness, accuracy, any bias or offense, and level of rigor,” Dodridge wrote. “The same message was relayed at the next faculty meeting and he met with the teacher specifically. The lesson chosen by the teacher fulfilled an English Language Arts standard and her aim was to have students draw conclusions and provide reasonings from the lesson. She has eliminated this lesson from her curriculum and will no longer use it.”
This story is still developing.