Monday, December 8, 2008

Caucasian history teacher shackles Black students for history lesson?

"Reenactments and demonstrations can be helpful teaching tools, but did a Rockland County teacher take that approach too far? She's under fire for binding the hands of black students and having them sit under a desk during a lesson on slavery.

Christine Shand says it was a terrible experience for her daughter, Gaby, descended, like most Jamaicans, from slaves.

"She burst into tears, she was crying and she was horrified," Shand told CBS 2 HD. In a social studies class at Haverstraw Middle School, teacher Eileen Bernstein chose Gaby and another girl for a demonstration of conditions on ships that carried slaves out of Africa.

One African-American student raised her hand to volunteer for the demonstration. Gaby did not volunteer, but was chosen anyway.

"She taped their hands together, taped their feet together, and she had them crawl under the desk as if they were on a slave ship," her mother told CBS 2.

Mrs. Shand said Gaby was traumatized. She questions the teacher's judgment.

"There are other ways to demonstrate slavery. There's movies, you don't actually have to grab two kids and like put shackles on them," she said.

Wilbur Aldridge, the regional NAACP director, went with the Shands Thursday to meet Bernstein.

"She said she apologized for causing any problems for the child, but she was not apologizing for using that simulation during the class," Aldridge said.

But Principal Avis Shelby apologized, calling the slave ship demonstration a "bad decision."

"And we have things in place to make sure it doesn't occur again," Shelby added.

Mrs. Shand said she's still not satisfied and is mulling her options, worrying about how Gaby will perform the rest of the school year.
In the meantime, Mrs. Bernstein has remained in the classroom. Because it's a personnel issue, school officials won't say if she's been disciplined or reprimanded."
-Tony Aiello

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a.eye said...

As a history teacher I find this interesting.

I have done this simulation with students at least 3 times, but I did it with black and white students, and if a student did not want to participate, they did not have to.

I am black, so maybe I have come at the lesson differently.

I was not doing it to show black students what it was like, I was showing all students what it was like. I also allowed the students to debrief the experience upon its completion -- I made sure they understood why we did the simulation, what the middle passage may have been like, and what else the enslaved people did that was was not demeaning to their persons. We also then talked about the way these enslaved people came out of their situations and have made the different areas of this hemisphere a better place.

I think a simulation like this can be done well, and it can be done poorly. Apparently this teacher did it poorly.

PurpleZoe said...

Peace *_^

I can't say that I think the demonstration is a particularly good idea, but I definitely agree it should be a volunteer activity that doesn't focus on black students in particular, if it must be used.
We're nowhere near healed where Post traumatic slave/stress syndrome is concerned.
The symbolism alone, of having a white woman in a role of authority subject black children to simulated bondage while they crawl under desks is irresponsible at minimal.
This teacher should have kept this in mind before putting Gaby through such a process. She should be penalized.

Parental consent forms should be issued for exercises of this nature. I would have birthed an entire cow, if my child had been put through this by a teacher who hadn't at least sought my family's permission.
Children are imaginative, and can grasp visual descriptions. I don't think it's at all difficult for the inhumanity of the middle passage to be grasped by the imaginations of students who are given the details of it.

Thanks for stopping through.
Your voice is appreciated,

Shine on

a.eye said...

"Children are imaginative, and can grasp visual descriptions."

This one of the reasons I stopped doing the demonstration. (Though they are imaginative, seeing first hand what it is like is really a large part of learning. Until I saw what an actual slave hold looked like in person, it really wasn't in perspective to me -- and this was after years of study and research)

Plus I wanted to focus more on the parts of slavery that people don't pay attention to -- like the children and the torn relationships that masters would hurt. I wanted them to understand more about the fact that people were considered adults after they were a certain height. I also wanted to focus on the positives that African Americans were able to accomplish and bring about in spite of their conditions.

Every where I have heard this demonstration presented as a classroom lesson has suggested parental consent as well as prior warning to the students and asked for volunteers and for those not wanting to participate to be allowed to sit out without penalty.

Vérité Parlant said...

Appalling! The teacher shows little grasp of psychology and how black children may feel when first
learning their ancestors used to be slaves. I don't think it's an appropriate exercise for younger children and with older children, if done, should be volunteer only.

Having them memorize slave narratives and recite them and then write what they think slaves may have experienced in their own words would have been better in my mind.

That's my personal opinion because I'm not a history teacher, but I do have theater training and know something about the psychology of role playing. Also, I wrote a poem a few years back that relates to this topic.

PurpleZoe said...

Peace *_^

I think your focus on the aspects of slavery that haven't been given due attention is sorely needed and applaud you for implementing it. It's very important our children can see what our ancestors were able to accomplish despite the torture and adversity, as well as see the effect of the torn relationships and broken bridges caused by slave conditioning that we must and will overcome as we move forward.

@Verite Parlant
I completely agree. The women is either clueless or she intended to leave a mark on the psyches of the children she chose. Why else would she ignore a volunteer in favor of a child that didn't want to participate? It is twisted for sure to simulate bondage with children for any reason, but in the case of the descendants of a people subjected the horrors of chattel slavery, and Jim Crow, it is an assault on the mind, as the communal mind is still trying to heal and make sense of things in a world that has yet to let go of its love for the color caste system and white priviledge.

Children are keen. They grasp way more than they are given credit for, and beyond grasping, there is direct blood memory. I feel the anger and pain of my ancestors. I have felt it since I was very very young, without any prompting from my family. It is simply with me.
I really don't believe the severity of our ancestors' experiences needs to be taught through exercises that include bondage of students.

If the students were Jewish for instance, and the exercise was to lock the children in a simulated gas chamber there would be hell to pay right about now.
The same outrage must be respected here.

Your voices are appreciated.
Thankyou both for stopping through