A Wisconsin school has apologized after making fourth-grade students write down three “good reasons for slavery” in a History assignment, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting.
School officials at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and School in Wauwatosa, in suburban Milwaukee, have sent out letters of apology to the family members of 240 students, saying that an assignment that drew international outrage was merely an “unintentionally, poorly worded assignment.” Further, the school said that administrators are “in active conversation with parents.”
The controversy began on social media. On Monday, January 8, parent Trameka Brown-Berry posted a photo of a worksheet that was sent home with her fourth-grader, Jerome.
“Does anyone else find my 4th grader’s homework offensive?
On the worksheet, students were asked to write down three “good” reasons for slavery on one half of the worksheet, and three bad ones on the other half. A child’s handwriting – presumably Jerome’s – lays out the reasons why the student wouldn’t be completing that assignment.
“I feel there is no good reason for slavery that’s why I did not write.”
Trameka’s post instantly went viral, drawing international attention to the small, private school. One person who noticed was civil-rights activist H. Nelson Goodson of Hispanic News Network U.S.A. Speaking to the Journal-Sentinel, he brought up his belief that there’s enough bigotry and racism in this country to go around, without school teachers imposing it on their students.
“It was very insensitive for the teacher to do that. The bigotry and anti-diversity feelings in this country lead people to believe it’s OK to act like that.”
School administrator Jim Van Dellen, however, told the newspaper that the assignment was simply “poorly worded.”
At least one internet commenter appears to believe that the assignment was intended as an attempt to get the kids to see the slaveowners’ justification for slavery as it existed at the time.
“Crimson Presley: Depending on the curriculum it may or may not actually be a bad question. If they were learning about the civil war/slavery/Lincoln, then the question may have been to get the children thinking about why it was good/bad WAY back when.”
Most others, however, haven’t been so forgiving.
Mack Dulaney: that is so sad,the teacher should resign asap”
“Teige Louise: I’d take the homework to class, ask the TEACHER very calmly what the answer is meant to be…and let them start digging till I’m in my rights to knock someone out or sue”
Now that the dust has started to settle, school officials are promising that mistakes like this won’t be made in the future.
“This particular assignment is no longer a part of our curriculum and we are committed to working with our families and our teachers regarding this sensitive issue.”
This is not the first time a school has found itself in hot water for a controversial homework assignment. As The New York Daily News reported in 2017, a Florida teacher was fired after asking students to complete a worksheet asking them how comfortable they are around “black people” and “Arabs.” Similarly, as Good Housekeeping reported in 2017, New York mom Lynne Polvino was outraged at a “sexist” assignment her daughter had been sent home with; the assignment started off with a child being disappointed that her mother had to work.