Shows like Them, The Underground Railroad and The Good Lord Bird have many divided on how we should talk about and address the topic of slavery, but usually television shows like that are solely made to educate us on a time period that shouldn’t be forgotten. However, bringing that conversation into a classroom takes a lot of sensitivity and overall understanding that you’re dealing with young minds that might not be able to process such a heavy topic.
That proved to be the case at Nashville elementary school Waverly Belmont when a teacher thought an assignment called “Let’s Make a Slave” would be a good idea. The assignment led to a recently-dismissed lawsuit from the family of a Black student with autism, but it’s a bit of a slippery slope when determining if it was a fair decision to throw out the case.
The teacher, who was actually student-teacher from Vanderbilt University, came up with the assignment back in February 2020 based off a common teaching tool known as The Willie Lynch Letter And The Making of a Slave. The child at the forefront of the suit was deeply disturbed by what was depicted, referred to as a “wild graphic and inappropriate” lesson in official court documents. The student actually developed fear that he could be sold as a slave in real life, or that his family could be separated like our people were unfortunately subjected to many decades ago. This past Monday, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger dismissed the case on grounds that the lesson was intentionally harmful.
Here’s what U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger said in regards to the decision:
“While the lesson in question may well have been especially inappropriate for John Doe as a student with a known disability, and even developmentally inappropriate for all fourth graders, that does not mean that its educational content constituted actionable harassment on the basis of race.”
As NBCBLK put it, legal precedent set by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals states that teasing has to be “systematic” or “pervasive” to be considered harassment. In other words, Trauger says the extent of teasing that caused the student such distress wasn’t made clear in the complaint.
Do you think a fair decision was made in this case? Is there a right way to teach slavery in the classroom to grade school level children, especially those with disabilities? Let us know your thoughts.
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