History Assignment Asks What Is ‘Good’ About Slavery
Students at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School were asked to come up with three bad reasons for slavery, as well as three “good” reasons.
The assignment first caught national attention when mom Trameka Brown-Berry posted a picture of her son Jerome’s homework on her Facebook page, asking “Does anyone else find my fourth-grader’s homework offensive?”
Student Stands Up For What He Believes
Jerome, who is black, couldn’t think of any so-called “good” reasons for slavery, so he answered as such, writing “I feel there is no good reason for slavery.” See little Jerome and his proud mother below.
Even in a hypothetical situation created for the purposes of teaching students how to argue points, many have criticized the tone-deaf assignment, especially because it was given to such young kids.
Parents Angered Over Offensive Assignment
Angry parents took their complaints to the staff at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School. This month, Principal Jim Van Dellen told the Associated Press that the school “regrets deeply an unjustifiable assignment on slavery earlier this week.” He said the assignment “did not reflect our core values or practices.”
Here is the full statement:
“We understand that, as presented, the words used showed a lack of sensitivity and were offensive. The purpose of the assignment was not, in any way, to have students argue that ANY slavery is acceptable — a concept that goes against our core values and beliefs about the equality and worth of people of all races.”
The school also said it plans to remove the assignment from its curriculum and notify parents of upcoming sensitive subject matters in the future.
Brown-Berry, who is a graduate student in nursing, said that she is asking administrators for several things moving forward. Among these requests is an apology to the students and parents, as well as training in cultural competency for the school’s staff.
Whatever the intention of this social studies lesson may have been, it clearly did not come through in the assignment, and the wording has left many adults and kids understandably angry and offended.
People across the country shared their reactions to the assignment on the internet:
Some people felt it belittled the impact of slavery on today’s African American people.
Not only was this assignment offensive, it also minimizes the impact that slavery has had on Black people today. The faculty doesn't just need culture training, they need an entire education. https://t.co/aCE4LyXBRs
— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) January 11, 2018
Others said this wasn’t merely a “badly worded” mistake:
It was more than badly worded. This teacher, clearly, did NOT think, this teacher has no personal alarm bells to help rethink and redirect the premise of the assignment and is out of touch with how to teach on such a sensitive subject as slavery remains to date. #lunchtimedebate
— Briggette (@StagedOnPurpose) January 12, 2018
Another post took a different approach to the assignment. In response to a tweet that clearly slams the assignment, someone suggested taking a closer look at how the question was written, especially how the word “good” was used. The post author wonders if maybe this questions is good for discussion after all.
"Good" is in quotations and it's possible the question is asking kids to think critically about why a culture would have slavery and how it would be defended by those who did it. If appropriate class discussion accompanies it, it could be a good assignment.
— Bristol (@JHammon67) January 12, 2018
A Silver Lining From Unfortunate Incident
One good thing has come out of this incident is that it has enabled Brown-Berry to show her son Jerome that it’s important to stand up and be a voice against injustice. “I wanted to model for him what it means to voice your opinion and stand up for yourself and stand up for what’s right. Because that leads to change,” Brown-Berry said, according to CNN.
The mother also posted an update, including thanks to the many people across the country who showed her and her family support.
And it appears Jerome is definitely watching and absorbing all she has been teaching him, because his last note on his homework assignment was this: “I am proud to be black because we are strong and brave.”
What an awesome kid!