Friday, December 12, 2008

This is why parents get angry at teachers

I want to preface this post by saying that I generally think parents are too quick to blame teachers for their children's bad behavior or bad grades. Most teachers in this country are overworked and underpaid, and many parents are unwilling to acknowledge problems with their children, preferring to heap all the blame on teachers.

That said, reading this story entitled "Teacher sorry for binding girls in slavery lesson," reminds me that sometimes teachers are to blame. On some level, I understand the pedagogy behind a move like this, I really do. When I teach Harriet Jacobs's Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, I mark off a space that is 3' high, 7'long, and 9' wide, which are the dimensions of the crawl space that Jacobs occupied for 7 years to escape slavery. I have my students lie down in this space and imagine what it felt like to be in the space for 5 minutes, let alone 7 years. So I understand wanting students to understand as much about slavery as possible. But binding the hands and feet of students is taking things a bit too far.


Oxymoron said...

She was just trying to engage her students. Yeah, she went a bit overboard, but her intent was admirable.

And I doubt that we can blame bad behavior and poor grades on exercises like this. I'd be more apt to say that such things are more the result of teachers not putting enough effort into their classes.

But, hell, I don't know. College teaching is much different than middle school and high school.

The biggest issue here, as I see it, is not the binding of hands and feet per se, but those students who were bound. The report said that the two girls weren't the only black students in the class, but I bet there weren't that many more. And that's what made this experience so traumatic for the girls. They were cast into the role of slaves because they were black. If this was an all black class, I doubt they would have been so humiliated. If it was a predominately white class, then why didn't the teacher illustrate the point with white students, blonde students, or students who wore red shirts on that day? This element of the exercise was a bone-head move.

Actually, I'm going to retract my earlier statement that such an activity probably wouldn't affect grades or behavior. On second thought, it very well could. A humiliating experience such as that may eventually incite much rage in those two students, compelling them to lash out at others. It could also make them crawl into their shells, becoming very unsocial and unwilling to participate in their educations for fear of being embarrassed again.

M said...

I didn't mean to suggest that this particular lesson would encourage bad behavior and poor grades. I just think this is an example of poor judgment on the teacher's part. If something like this happened to Wild Man, I would be enraged, and I know a lot about pedagogy and intent and engaging students.

Oxymoron said...

"The biggest issue here, as I see it, is not the binding of hands and feet per se."

On third thought, yes, this is also the issue. Well, maybe. I think it largely depends on the context, about which the article doesn't give too much information.

Did the teacher say, "slave owners would bind the slaves' hands and feet, sort of like this, then put in places as small as the area under your desk. Crawl under there for a second. Can you imagine staying like this for hours? What do you think would happen if you had to use the restroom? etc. etc."?

Or did she set up the exercise such that she tried also to mimic the degradation involved? Were student allowed to laugh at the bound students? Did the teacher leave the students there and ignore their existence for some time? These things are dehumanized and, to me, seem much different than the first hypothetical.

The article is pretty vague on the details. It doesn't even say what age the students are? If this was middle school, then they are certainly not mature enough for this exercise. Maybe high school seniors. I don't know. I just know I wouldn't take this approach.