Social studies assignment for 8th graders depicts police officers as Ku Klux Klan members

Social studies assignment for 8th graders depicts police
officers as Ku Klux Klan members 1

DALLAS, TX- After a summer filled with violent protests against law enforcement officers, an 8th-grade social studies teacher gave an assignment that depicted police officers as slave owners and members of the KKK in a series of cartoons.

According to reports, the assignment was given to students at Cooper Junior High in Wylie, Texas and it used political cartoons, five to be exact, where a black man is laying on his stomach while being restrained.

In each cartoon, the other person is in some type of uniform depicting authority and is white. In one of the cartoons, the white person is wearing a KKK mask.

In addition, in each cartoon the black man is in the process of saying, “I can’t breathe” while the white person has a knee on their neck. It can be inferred from the cartoons that the scenes are in reference to the death of George Floyd.

On August 19th, the vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police, Joe Gamaldi sent a letter to Wylie Independent School District Superintendent David Vinson saying:

“I cannot begin to tell you how abhorrent and disturbing this comparison is, but what is more disturbing is that no adult within your school thought better before sending this assignment to children.”

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The first cartoon in the series seems to depict a Christophe Columbus type explorer with a knee on the black man’s neck and then the second cartoon appears to be a plantation owner.

The third cartoon is clearly a KKK member and the last two cartoons are police officers.

The first police officer has a “WHITE ONLY” sign behind him in the cartoon background, making him appear to be a Jim Crow-era officer. The last cartoon appears to depict the officer from Minneapolis who was involved in the George Floyd killing.

According to reports, the written instructions for the assignment included a discussion about the First Amendment giving Americans the right to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceably assemble.

The assignment also noted some of the violent protests that have taken place from coast to coast over the summer. Part of the assignment read:

“In the midst of the protests following George Floyd’s death, some have criticized protesters for creating chaos, others say the violence is instigated by outside extremist groups, and many see police initiating violence at the protests.”

It then asked students to use their prior knowledge and online research to describe the role of protest in a democracy and asked them if protests could “lead to real change” in America’s treatment of Black and brown people.

It also asked what the cartoon said about U.S. history and the death of George Floyd. Texas Governor, Greg Abbott said that the teacher should be fired. He said in a statement on Twitter:

“A teacher in a Texas public school comparing police officers to the KKK is beyond unacceptable. It’s the opposite of what must be taught. The teacher should be fired. I’m asking the Texas Education Agency to investigate and take action.”

Immediately following the outcry from students, parents, and other members of the community, the Wylie Independent School District issued a statement saying that the cartoons are not a part of the districts curriculum resources or documents. The statement said:

“We are sorry for any hurt that may have been caused through this lesson. The assignment has been removed and students will not be expected to complete it.”

Due to privacy laws, the school district did not identify the teacher by name. The statement added:

“We don’t condone the use of these divisive images and are addressing the issue to prevent this from happening again. The district is complying with the Governor and the Texas Education Agency to investigate this matter as we work together to rebuild trust in the community.”

CNN reported that a source close to the investigation said that the assignment was used by more than one social studies teacher as part of instruction for the lesson in the 8th grade. The source did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to speak about the situation.

The Texas Education Agency has confirmed that they are actively investigating the assignment.

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Here is another article from Law Enforcement Today about a teacher that was fired for delivering a controversial assignment covering slavery:

NASHVILLE, TN – A student teacher was recently relieved of their duties from Waverly Belmont Elementary School for what’s being noted as a controversial assignment covering slavery.

In a lesson that taking was place during Black History Month, a fourth-grade classroom was administered an optional assignment inspired by the 1712 speech “The Making of a Slave” by slave owner William Lynch.

Needless to say, parents were not thrilled about the assignment’s graphic subject matter reaching the eyes and ears of their young children.

Kristen Lockert was one of the parents who was confused and disturbed by the classroom assignment, concerned that the graphic content was simply too much for her black, fourth-grade son.

Lockert spoke to a local news crew about the troubling assignment delivered in the classroom:

“Monday my child was like, we learned about slavery. The teacher gave them a choice. She said the info was very graphic and violent and you have a choice, to read it or not read it. If you don’t want to read it, then you go to the other side of the classroom.”

What’s interesting is that if the student-teacher doling out the lesson was aware of the graphic content, why weren’t parents informed initially instead of informing a room full of 9 and 10-year-olds?

Lockert held the very same observation during the broadcasted interview with local News 4 NBC:

“If the students have a choice [on the assignment], then they have to have parent permission.”

The history of slavery, both in America and abroad, is an important subject that students should learn the history of.

But some parents argue that students having the question: “To keep their slaves subservient, plantation owners should” – followed by a series of blank bullet points to fill in – is not an appropriate way to teach youngsters.

Lockert noted that her son was curious about the assignment, after being warned that it might be too graphic.

So the young man opted to read the first few paragraphs and reported to his mother what he read. The mother recounted what he relayed reading from those first paragraphs:

“You need to whip a black man just as you whip a horse and break them as a horse. You need to inbreed them and then take their child away.” 

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It’s not difficult to see how someone so young would have a tough time digesting those realities of slavery, especially considering they’re also black.

With things like having to contemplate the history of the era of slavery, the dynamic between owners and slaves and so much more, it can prove to be a complex lesson plan for elementary-aged kids.

The mother of the young boy is worried that the lesson delivered might have caused identity issues. Lockert stated:

“Just knowing he had to be subjected to reading something like that could make him feel like he was less of who he is.”

Metro Nashville Public Schools took the concerns seriously, and released a statement following their actions to dismiss the student-teacher:

“A student-teacher was dismissed and asked not to return to Waverly-Belmont as a result of teaching material that was not age appropriate or within the scope of sequence for the 4th grade class.”

Apparently, the class’ full-time teacher was also placed on administrative leave after the incident, according to district spokesman Sean Braisted. Braisted also stated that the student-teacher is an African American female student from nearby Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt University released the following statement after word broke of the student-teacher hailing from the school:

“The student teacher experience, where seasoned classroom teachers serve as mentors, is an invaluable one. This was an unfortunate situation for all involved.

We will continue to work with Metro Nashville Public Schools to ensure that students, student-teachers, and mentors benefit from engaging in the classroom and working together.”

Topics like slavery or learning about the Holocaust are invaluable to learn and understand. While these subjects might be slightly covered in grades as early as 4th or 5th, there’s typically a little tact applied and children are usually spared the more gruesome realities of the times.

In fact, Common Sense Media suggests that discussing the details of any horrific act of violence – like rapes, beheadings and so on – should transpire after someone is 12 years old at the earliest. There’s a fitting colloquialism that can be applied here, and that is young children just need to be “spared the gory details”.

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