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Author Topic: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students  (Read 5867 times)

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Offline ParadoxTopic starter

Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« on: April 10, 2011, 08:58:04 PM »
Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students

I am a strong proponent of the premise that learning should sometimes be uncomfortable and difficult, but this is taking the idea of engaging students with nontraditional teaching a bit far. I'm rather miffed by the fact that slavery can hardly ever be discussed without accusations of racism running rampant from one side or the other, but this does seem like a flagrant disregard for people's sensitivities. I've heard conflicting reports about the teacher's race, but the only Jessica Boyle I can find online is definitely white.

My main point in posting this is to ask how you all think the teacher should be dealt with. Too often, teachers make a single mistake and outright fired for it. For a degree that usually takes five to six years to obtain, that's awfully harsh when perhaps a mediation could resolve the underlying issues; still, in this case, the mistake was rather extreme. Another question is do you think it would have made a difference if this had been done in high school? Perhaps the students would have been more mature and able to understand the actual intent instead of the simply seeing it as offensive.



Offline Serephino

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #1 on: April 11, 2011, 12:43:29 PM »
The woman probably went a little overboard, but I also think people are overreacting.  She was only using an example to teach them about a harsh reality of our past.  Had slavery not been abolished, those black kids would have been sold off to the highest bidder.  The mixed race ones too because slave owners often raped their slave women, and any resulting babies were considered no different than any other slave baby.

All that being said, this lesson probably would have been better suited to older students.   

Offline TheLovelyMaid

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #2 on: April 11, 2011, 04:23:47 PM »
It's never acceptable to single out a person because of their race, or sexuality or religion, just because you'd like to supplement your teaching, in my opinion.  It makes the student(s) uncomfortable. I've been that student before. You get selected to talk about something you're not really comfortable discussing, being the minority in the classroom, then you end up wanting to make yourself disappear for the rest of class.  Elementary school? I wouldn't have been okay with it at high school-level either.

If I had a kid in her class, I would call for her immediate dismissal--and her nationality has nothing to do with it. The fact that she chose to single out my child, because of their race, and put them on the spot in front of their peers, in such a degrading, horrible, deplorable, way is offensive to me.  Where were the lesson plans? Don't they have to submit them to the principal make sure the students are on track for learning? What principal approved this exercise? If at all?

My problem is that they were singled out.  If she had involved a mixture of different students, and they were older, that would have been a horse of a different color.  I think she should be sacked. Or at the very, very least, written up and a suspension for a few days. Finding a creative way to teach material is great, but that just went way, way over the line.

Offline Star Safyre

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #3 on: April 11, 2011, 04:48:22 PM »
I would agree that this is not an appropriate activity for elementary students.  No student that young should have to handle real, authority-approved segregation for any amount of time, even within the context of a lesson.  I would even not advise this to middle schoolers.  (I was privy to a small incident involving a science teacher's lesson on the spread of AIDS which involved students trading marked cards to indicate interaction with an infected person.  The students who "contacted" the "virus" were teased for the remainder of the school year, possibly longer.)

The race of the teacher is really non-consequential; racial insensitivity knows no color. 

Also there are many ways of teaching the same lesson about discrimination without resorting to sorting students by their actual race/religion/ethnicity.  The students could have had signs randomly placed on their backs (as I did in a lesson on medieval social structures and the Great Chain of Being), draw cards, or the teacher could choose any arbitrary part of students' clothing (everyone with sneakers, everyone with hoodies, everyone wearing red).  Students could even volunteer for certain roles.  There are a thousand ways to approach this same lesson with sensitivity and the teacher failed to choose one.  An educator should never single a student out, positively or negatively, for any trait that is not under their full control.  Not race.  Not religion.  Not disability.  Not sexuality.  Not family background.  Unless a student volunteers this information to share in a positive and educational way, there is nothing to be gained by using students as examples.  This is a basic concept that is taught in every Educational Diversity and Social Foundations of Education class I've taken. 

What upsets me more is that incidents like this make teachers shy away from topics that need to be taught and discussed in classrooms.  It will make teachers second-guess their ability to handle these topics for fear of parental inquiry and administrative scrutiny.

Offline Shjade

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #4 on: April 14, 2011, 01:40:01 AM »
Here's the thing I'd like to know:

How in the hell did this teacher not at some point prior to actually enacting this lesson plan realize this was a terrible idea?

Seriously. Just...how?

Offline gaggedLouise

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #5 on: April 14, 2011, 07:46:20 AM »
A very ill-considered idea with kids that age, but I do think it could have been a different matter if it had been done in a high school class. The concept is blunt, okay, but it does bring home the reality of what slavery meant to people in those days and the hideous things that were accepted and taken for granted. And that seems worth highlighting because today, some people tend to mitigate this and say "It was so long ago, and after all you blacks were brought to America, the land of the free" and "Don't try to play the victim!"

There were a resonable number of people in that classroom it seems who were 'sold' as slaves, that reduces the risk of individual stigma I think. So I wouldn't condemn the idea in itself but 4th grade was certainly a too early level to put it into practice.

For comparison, I read about a suggestion intended for an educational theme day about world economy and divisions between rich and poor countries; this had been suggested around 1975, before the Asian tigers became really potent. The suggested activity - one of many - was that the students (age roughly 10 to 15 years) would be split up into a minor group representing the rich countries and a larger group, the third world. The "rich kids" would be treated to fairly mouth-watering food, ice-cream and attractively dressed tables; the poor kids would have to do with simpler and more meagre stuff, like, a bowl of rice, some veggies and bacon and, at the afternoon break, water and bread (maybe milk too) and they would have to be seated on large mats. I suppose there would be some way to secure that the kids didn't try to snatch food in the wrong place or sneak into the good queue. Now, that's a pretty blunt exercise and some parents would have jumped at it when they heard what had happened, but together with discussion it would have brought home a harsh reality,
« Last Edit: April 14, 2011, 07:50:03 AM by gaggedLouise »

Offline consortium11

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #6 on: April 14, 2011, 07:59:19 AM »
Here's the thing I'd like to know:

How in the hell did this teacher not at some point prior to actually enacting this lesson plan realize this was a terrible idea?

Seriously. Just...how?

That's basically my thoughts on this. Whether or not the actual reasoning behind splitting the children by racial lines was solid (and I honestly doubt it) it should have only taken a moment for the teacher to realise that it really wasn't appropriate.

Offline Imogen

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #7 on: April 14, 2011, 09:40:53 AM »
I have to wonder if the same outrage would have happened if the teacher had chosen white children for her lesson. Or, as done oh so many times before, children with blue eyes or whatever. The choice of "black children" although it does drive the point home seems to invite the exact reaction of outrage that occured. The idea of seperating groups upon factors beyond their control isn't a bad way to visualize history's foolishness, but I do believe that these children were too young to fully grasp the thought process behind the lesson. Much better to wait till the kids are old enough to understand and discuss the material properly.

Offline Shjade

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #8 on: April 14, 2011, 12:10:10 PM »
Much better to wait till the kids are old enough to understand and discuss the material properly.
Even with older kids, as Safyre pointed out, you don't want to actively reinforce the practice you're teaching about with the exercise. Pick some kids at random or via some arbitrary details that day (see Saf's examples above) and go with it from there; don't say "All the black kids line up on this side! Remember: in the old days we'd have owned your asses." At best it's merely a distraction from whatever you're actually trying to teach. It doesn't help.

Offline Will

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2011, 12:42:30 PM »
Even with older kids, as Safyre pointed out, you don't want to actively reinforce the practice you're teaching about with the exercise. Pick some kids at random or via some arbitrary details that day (see Saf's examples above) and go with it from there; don't say "All the black kids line up on this side! Remember: in the old days we'd have owned your asses." At best it's merely a distraction from whatever you're actually trying to teach. It doesn't help.

Agreed.  I think it's important not to overestimate the maturity levels of most high school kids; I'm not convinced in any way, shape, or form that they would be mature enough to handle it either.  It might not be as bad as doing it with fourth graders, but still, I don't think they have the subtlety to go past the initial shock and awkwardness of the method and take home the intended message.  You're basically immersing them in racism and expecting them to learn something from it.  I question how effective that would be with some adults, much less teenagers, and much MUCH less fourth graders.  I'm sort of stupefied myself at the catastrophic failure of this teacher's better judgment.

Offline Star Safyre

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2011, 03:27:29 PM »
I'd agree about overestimating high school students as well.  Even with my own juniors and seniors, I wouldn't attempt this.  Beyond my already stated reasons, some of my guys are emotionally disabled.  Even some which have not been diagnosed with any developmental disorder lack maturity from being grouped with these same types of students academically for so many years  (I'll save my rant on that for later...)

Would there have been less outrage if "black" and "slavery" weren't readily available for nay-sayers to attach themselves to?  Possibly.  Regardless of what trait the teacher chose, it is still unethical to divide up students into unequally treated groups within the same classroom environment.  The teacher modeled the exact behavior she might have been attempting to discredit, however it takes a level of sophistication to make the mental leap from "my teacher's doing this" to "my teacher is doing this to show me that it's wrong".

This irritates me more when I think how this stripped away any self-chosen identity the students might have had.  Having a very high population of mixed-race students, I'm very aware that what traits I see with my eyes might have nothing to do with how a student identifies him or herself.  If I was foolish enough to have given this lesson plan in my classroom, I know many of my students would become high agitated at how I might visually categorize them as black or white based on my own external viewpoint.  Cultural identity, which is often formed during the age-range this lesson took place, is not something a teacher has any place in constructing for a student.  To pigeonhole a student like this while they are still forming their ideas about race and cultural identity is deplorable.

Offline Remiel

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #11 on: April 14, 2011, 03:56:33 PM »
I think we can all agree that the teacher here made a gross error in judgment.  Here's the question, though, for Star Safyre and any others who are in the educational profession:  do you believe the teacher deserves to be fired because of it?

Offline Neroon

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #12 on: April 14, 2011, 04:49:09 PM »
It's been said that it's important not to overestimate the maturity of teenagers.  Having managed teachers and trained teachers, I would add that it's important not to overestimate the maturity of teachers.  Basically, it's been my experience that inside all of us there is an inner twerp that will ensnare us into stupidity given the slightest opportunity.

Looking at the case in point, I would say that it is immaterial whether the teacher deserves to be fired or not, because this incident has gained the school notoriety, I doubt that there would be little that could be done to salvage the teacher's position in that school.  In order to underline the fact that the school does not institutionalise racism, the principal will need to offer a sacrifice on the altar of public opinion.  I doubt that it will be a formal dismissal but the teacher will most likely not be employed at that school at the start of the next academic year.

What's likely to happen is that the teacher will be given the opportunity of resigning with an agreed reference, so that employment in another school as a fresh start is possible.  Dismissal would most likely keep the media attention going and the school's management will be very keen to ensure that everything is quietened down as soon as possible.

Does the teacher deserve disciplinary action?  Damn right.  There are some things that one should just not do and if they are done then a metaphorical hard slap is in order.  Does the teacher deserve to be fired? In my opinion, no, not if this is a single blot on an otherwise blemishless copybook.  Nobody should lose their career for a single mistake but, if this is the latest in a line of such cock-ups, then the profession is better without their presence and not just the school.

Online Sho

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #13 on: April 14, 2011, 05:47:57 PM »
I absolutely believe the teacher should be dismissed.

If a teacher is incapable of teaching a lesson without making students physically or emotionally uncomfortable, they shouldn't be a teacher. Especially for children as young as fourth grade. The lesson would be equally clear if the teacher had shown snapshots of people who were slaves, or had the students read a story about what it was like to be a slave - there are plenty of them out there.

There are so many other ways that the teacher could have handled this situation and what she did was completely innapropriate. Particularly for young children. As Neroon said, she also brought notoriety to the school and damaged the school's reputation. That in and of itself should be be enough to have the teacher dismissed.

It would have been an uncomfortable situation for both white and black students to be in, and it raises serious questions - is the teacher saying that the white students should treat the black students as lesser people on the basis of their skin color? The message could easily become jumbled, particularly when its young children that we're talking about.

Offline Silverfyre

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #14 on: April 14, 2011, 07:49:00 PM »
I think we can all agree that the teacher here made a gross error in judgment.  Here's the question, though, for Star Safyre and any others who are in the educational profession:  do you believe the teacher deserves to be fired because of it?

As one of those educational field types, I would have to voice that the teacher should be dismissed upon the grounds of unprofessional behavior and creating a lesson that, in the end, seems to single out students of a certain racial background.  It's at the elementary level and the students of that grade level are not capable of understanding the complexity of such an issue like slavery.  I have experience teaching elementary school kids and while they are certainly rather clever, intelligent, and creative, they are also lacking in the knowledge that would allow them to properly understand and comprehend (and thus learn) from such a lesson.  This teacher obviously does not understand this and thus should not be allowed to teach to children of this grade level.  To me, as a fellow teacher, this was a terribly stupid and naive thing to do and she deserves to pay the price for it.  Call it harsh or what have you but educators should be held to a higher standard, morally and otherwise, in my opinion.

Offline ParadoxTopic starter

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #15 on: April 15, 2011, 02:37:53 PM »
The woman probably went a little overboard, but I also think people are overreacting.  She was only using an example to teach them about a harsh reality of our past.  Had slavery not been abolished, those black kids would have been sold off to the highest bidder.  The mixed race ones too because slave owners often raped their slave women, and any resulting babies were considered no different than any other slave baby.

All that being said, this lesson probably would have been better suited to older students.   


I would have initially agreed with you, but I'm not so sure anymore.

Imagine if a history teacher had asked some kids to climb into an oven to reenact the Holocaust.There are better ways of showing that period of history-- show Amistad or Roots. Those people were paid professionals who studied how best to represent and illustrate those problems.

Offline Star Safyre

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #16 on: April 15, 2011, 04:00:32 PM »
I think we can all agree that the teacher here made a gross error in judgment.  Here's the question, though, for Star Safyre and any others who are in the educational profession:  do you believe the teacher deserves to be fired because of it?

She certainly deserves to be reprimanded.  I think being forced to take another position with less autonomy would be advisable while she takes some much needed courses on classroom diversity and cultural sensitivity.  Moving her to another school and permitting her to hold the same position would be unproductive and simply shuffling the problem along as the system has often been accused of doing with bad teachers.  If she has had no other record of disciplinary actions, I'd imagine being able to work in a less independent position, such as an aide or partner teacher, would be fitting while she took the required courses.  If she's authentically apologetic and wishes to better herself as a professional, she should resign her current position and find one in which she can spend more time observing and learning from successful teachers.

Her unprofessional actions violated very basic concepts which are taught in the early levels of education courses.  For all teachers, cultural sensitivity is a fundamental concept for which there is no excuse in neglecting.  We're talking first or second year stuff.  There really is no excuse.

Offline ParadoxTopic starter

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #17 on: May 12, 2011, 12:53:21 PM »
Update!

Ms. Boyle, the teacher responsible for the lesson involving the mock-auction of black kids into slavery, is suing  the newspaper company that ran this story. She claims the newspaper libeled her, causing damages worth a whopping ten million dollars. She seems to have given up on reclaiming her job and must instead be attempting to make up for a lifetime's worth of missed salary. The problem with that mindset, if that is indeed where she's coming from, is that 40 years of teaching would have only given her somewhere around two million dollars (based on the average $50k teacher salary for Norfolk, yearly pay raises excluded since they're currently frozen anyway).

More on the story here:
http://hamptonroads.com.nyud.net/node/599539

Offline Star Safyre

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #18 on: May 12, 2011, 02:54:17 PM »
Wait, she does something unethical that is discussed in the basics of classroom diversity courses, it gets reported, and she's blaming them for losing her career?  Yeah, she would have set a great example for students.   >:(

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Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #19 on: May 12, 2011, 07:21:56 PM »
40 years of teaching would have only given her somewhere around two million dollars (based on the average $50k teacher salary for Norfolk, yearly pay raises excluded since they're currently frozen anyway).

Assuming that she didn't get hit by a Reduction in Force due to state budget cuts.

Offline Shjade

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #20 on: May 12, 2011, 08:55:36 PM »
Wait, she does something unethical that is discussed in the basics of classroom diversity courses, it gets reported, and she's blaming them for losing her career?  Yeah, she would have set a great example for students.   >:(
Sounds like the students I knew growing up. I still remember a kid in high school whose parents threw a fit about him getting failed for not attending class until the school admins overturned the failgrade - I don't know the details, but the broad strokes made me headdesk at the time.

Offline Assallya

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #21 on: May 12, 2011, 11:49:39 PM »
I really, really have to comment on the fallacy of this teacher's endevour.  Such a thing is doomed before it begins.  What was she thinking?  Not only was it foolish in terms of sensitivity but there's no way the activity could accomplish its goal.  No reenactment whatsoever will ever even come close to driving home the horror of slavery.  You not going to make a person understand, with a simple exercise, what it's like to be an object nor what it is to feel dejected, without worth and live in fear and without the slimmest glimmer of hope.

While it would be great for the students to come to understand the plight of those unfortunate souls it's just not possible to distill the essence of that into something a young student can swallow easily.  Simply put, no matter what resulted, the concept was flawed and doomed to failure before it even began.

Offline Belle33

Re: Principal apologizes for slave auction of black students
« Reply #22 on: May 14, 2011, 01:55:30 AM »
I agree with this teacher's dismissal.  There is a shocking lack of good judgement here.  I distinctly recall blindly selecting green or blue arm bands to randomly determine which children were part of the minority and majority in discussions about slavery and civil rights when I was in elementary school.  Those old lessons held more weight, I think, because we had no control over the group in which we landed.  I certainly applaud teachers who think outside the box, but the sort of insensitivity displayed by this teacher makes me wonder if it's her first lapse in judgement, or merely the most egregious. 

This only makes me appreciate the wonderful job most teachers do every day, without any fanfare, and with less and less appreciation.  Cheers to the good ones!