One night when Gary Cella was going over homework with his 11-year-old daughter, he was shocked to discover that the assignment included racial, ethnic and gender slurs.
According to NBC, Cella says:
"I feel as a parent of a seventh-grader that words that start with the letter 'F' and are four letters in duration and that words that start with letter 'N' and are six letters in duration are inappropriate… Like many parents, I said, 'Let's go over your homework.' When I saw this, I literally stopped in my tracks and did the classic double-take. It's not something you expect from any school."
Of course, the offensive words were the point of the assignment; the homework was part of a project with the American Library Association's Banned Books Week, and meant to "get students thinking about why certain literary classics are considered taboo." But Cella was disturbed enough to call the superintendent of schools.
The thing is, at least the school was using these words and books in a positive, teachable-moment way. I can't help but think back on my own uncomfortable experience in first grade, when the class was supposed to present some kind of history assembly program, and I was assigned the task of making a speech that included the word "Negro." I remember being torn between wanting to please my teacher and feeling incredibly awkward and embarrassed, since this was not a word I had ever uttered — and I was the only black kid in my class. At least Gary Cella's daughter is being given some context. Is it ever too early to teach why and how something is offensive?