Iowa teacher asks students to pretend they are 'Black slaves' in assignment, gets suspended
IOWA CITY, IOWA: While teaching students about America's history of racism is no doubt an important subject, many teachers have been going about this the wrong way. One teacher in Iowa City has been suspended by the school district for giving her students an assignment asking them to 'pretend you are a Black slave'. The assignment has been removed, and the teacher has been placed on administrative leave.
"Think very, very carefully about what your life would be like as a slave in 1865," the assignment reads. "You can't read or write and you have never been off the plantation you work on. What would you do when you hear the news you are free? What factors would play into the decision you make?" The assignment asks the students to submit their answers in four sentences, using proper grammar and punctuation.
According to a statement from the Iowa City Community School District spokesperson Kristin Pedersen, the school district believes that the assignment was inappropriate and that it "does not support and will not tolerate this type of instruction." While the district did not provide any other additional information, the Iowa City Press Citizen claims that "the situation is being reviewed using the district's internal HR processes." The teacher in question is part of the school district's online learning program, put into place due to the pandemic. The program works with students from several school buildings, irrespective of what school they went to pre-pandemic.
Dibny Gamezy, one of the parents of students who received the assignment has been quoted as saying, "the way it is in 2020 right now, when it comes to race, you have to be very careful of what you can say and not say." Her daughter Ayesha brought the matter to his attention when she told her how uncomfortable the assignment made her. Ayesha, who was set to enroll as a student at Liberty High School before the pandemic hit, told Gamezy that she wasn't able to complete the assignment.
"She's, like, 'mom, that makes me so uncomfortable.' She just starts tearing up," Gamez said. "And I was, like, 'No, listen, you don't have to be ashamed of who you are.' I said, 'You are beautiful for who you are. Don't let not one soul make you uncomfortable for who you are'." The teacher who gave out the assignment has not been named.
There has been a wave of missteps like this one throughout schools in America. In January, a Texas teacher asked their eighth-grade students to list the positives of slavery as a class assignment. An elementary school in Virginia had to issue an apology in February for holding a gym class where students were asked to pretend to be "runaway slaves", sparking outrage. As teachers continue to struggle to find creative ways to teach students about race, it is certain that more of such missteps will be made, and that we have not seen the last of these controversial assignments.