An eighth-grade social studies teacher at John W. Dodd Middle School in Freeport, New York has been suspended pending an investigation into an assignment in which she reportedly asked students to provide funny captions to pictures of post-Civil War pictures of newly freed sharecroppers.
According to CNN, the unidentified teacher instructed students to “make it funny” when she passed around the images and gave assignment instructions, also telling students “don’t bore me.” Darlene McCurty, whose granddaughter is friends with one of the students given the assignment, posted photos of some of the captions to Facebook. One image is titled “I hate this,” by the student with a caption that reads, “Black people need to get out,” while another says “#BlackGirlMagic.” McCurty is requesting that the teacher be removed from the classroom.
In a statement released by Freeport Public Schools authorities, the teacher apologizes for being “careless”:
“As a teacher and fellow member of this school community, it is my responsibility to exercise the highest degree of care and thought in all of my student and staff interactions. I failed to do so last week, and I fully accept that I must work hard to rebuild trust from my students, colleagues and the community.”
In the same statement, Freeport Public Schools Superintendent Kishore Kuncham acknowledges that the lesson was a bad one that did not teach anything outside the fact that teachers are sometimes completely ignorant of and insensitive to the subjects they are teaching:
“Let me be perfectly clear: Our investigation has determined that this lesson was poorly conceived and executed,” the statement read, in part. “Aside from the fact that this is a poor lesson, it is an insensitive trivialization of a deeply painful era for African Americans in this country, and it is unacceptable.”
A few parents and some students, however, are defending the teacher’s intentions. “She’s a good teacher. She didn’t mean it that way. Some people took offense to it and I know how she meant it,” one student told CNN-affiliate WCBS.
Other parents and students of J.W. Dodd, a school with a student population that is 66 percent Latinx and 25 percent black, rightfully would like some further explanation for how such a lesson ended up being assigned to eighth-graders in the first place.
“What would make you even say something like that in the first place? It’s just unthinkable,” one parent told WCBS. That’s a good question and deserves a much more thoughtful answer from both the assigning teacher and the school administration that allowed such an assignment on a lesson plan.