On today's episode of "who the actual fuck thought this could possibly be a good idea?" a group of Midwestern middle school teachers have been suspended after assigning what may well be one of the most cringe-worthy social studies assignments in recent history -- asking students how they'd "punish" a slave that "disrespected his master."
Earlier this week, sixth-graders at the Patrick Marsh Middle School, outside of Madison, Wisconsin were learning about ancient Mesopotamia's Hammurabi Code of law, proclaimed by Babylonian Ruler, King Hammurabi. After discussing some of the code's 282 rules, including the concept of "an eye for an eye," students were asked to design a punishment for a slave that "disrespected his master by telling him, 'You are not my master!'" the prompt noting that in Mesopotamia, the person would have been put to death for making a statement of that nature, according to Newsweek. The American education system, folks! Soon after, angry parents and community members began speaking out about the alarming assignment.
"First day of Black History Month and this was issued to my 6th grader at Patrick Marsh Middle School!!!," wrote Dazarrea Ervins, whose son was issued the task alongside several angry emojis and the school's phone number.
Ervins, who noted her child had a look that said "I don't want to do this" on his face after scanning the problematic prompt, elaborated on this concern, telling local NBC News affiliate WMTV that she felt "just shocked" and "couldn’t believe what I was reading."
"I can see how they're learning about this era, but the wording of the question and the statement -- it was just wrong," she explained. "It made me think of how they would treat me if I was in-person, in class. What would they think of me, and would they treat me like I was an outsider and make me feel scared and unsafe?"
After Ervins contacted the school's administration over the objectional lesson plan, which once again, occurred on the first day of Black History Month, adding further insult to injury, the principal and vice-principal issued a statement to parents apologizing for the execrable exercise. "Our intent missed the mark, and for that we are deeply sorry," the administrators wrote. "Going forward we will be sure to think critically about whether our intent matches our impact." As a part of this critical thinking -- which comes a little too late, all things considered -- the offending teachers have been placed on leave as the Praire Area School District investigates what the Hell went so terribly awry that such an assignment was considered appropriate. Furthermore, the district has also avowed to analyze elements of its curriculum "with the lens of racial trauma and curriculum violence."
"We deeply regret that this lesson took place, and we also recognize that this was a breakdown in our curricular processes and our district-wide focus on equity," the statement continued. "In addition to immediately addressing this situation, it is important that we commit to changing our curriculum and professional development for all staff." Yet according to Michael Johnson, the President and CEO of Dane County's Boys and Girls Club, it seems several of these teachers have already had plenty of "professional development," opportunities, making this offensive lapse in judgment somehow even worse. "I didn't believe it was real, to be honest with you," Johnson told local news publication, Channel 3000. "For this to happen on the first day of Black History Month, given all the training I've been told teachers have gone through, I think this was bad judgment." He continued. "I was surprised it was multiple teachers involved. Someone should've been able to see this and say from their cultural competency lens that this is unacceptable."
Although always unacceptable, as Johnson noted, teachers turning to offensive lessons and exercises to inform their students about the horrors of slavery -- in all eras -- isn't uncommon. In 2019, one Missouri teacher was placed on leave after asking her students to 'set your price for a slave', as educators from Long Island, New York came under fire for asking their pupils to conjure "funny" captions for images depicting slaves in a cotton field, NBC News noted.
So folks, remember, while it's important that students learn about historical events, even when painful, let's avoid asking children how they'd punish slaves from any historical era -- especially on the first day of Black History Month. Great work, U.S. Education system!