It’s unclear how the teacher came across the assignment, but the activity was found in “Omnibus III: Reformation to the Present,” a Christian history textbook that evangelical pastor Douglas Wilson helped edit, according to The Daily Beast.
Frank Bunnell, the school principal, described the assignment as misleading in an email to parents obtained by the news site. “A person could read just the assignment and draw a very unrealistic view of the true tragedies that occurred. That was not intended,” he wrote. “However, intent does not excuse anything. There is no excuse to downplay a practice that (even after abolished) spurs unjust laws, unfair economic practices, inhumane treatment, and suppression of a people.”
Jeremy Marquell Bridges, the social media manager for Black Lives Matter Mississippi, told The Daily Beast he doesn’t know how a logical person teaches this. “Like someone who went to school to teach children could think this exercise was helpful in any way. It’s not helpful, it’s hurtful,” Bridges said. Purvis Middle School’s student population is about 12% Black and 82% white, according to the Mississippi Department of Education. “This is Klan territory,” Bridges told The Daily Beast, having attended public schools in the state.
Parents at the school similarly described a history of race issues at Lamar County Schools in interviews with Fox 13. “Just last year we had White students chanting ‘White Power’ at Oak Grove High School while the district protected that student and significantly increased security in response to Black and Brown students wanting to speak out,” parent Amy Nobles told FOX Television Stations.
“I was shocked when I found them scanning and patting down mostly Black and Brown children (9 and 10 years old) for weapons like they were criminals and called it ‘standard procedure’. That’s when we decided to homeschool,” Nobles added.
La’Cree Jackson, the parent of a Purvis student, told Fox she’s disturbed but not surprised after her son was called the N-word at school. The official response was to kick the boy off the team, but basketball season had already ended, Jackson said. “They’re not doing anything at all,” she added. “It’s more so swept under the rug.”
Jarrius Adams, president of Young Democrats Mississippi, told The Daily Beast the assignment was “extremely tone deaf and inappropriate.” “If I were a parent of a student in the classroom, I would be pissed,” he said. “There are proper ways to educate students about the history of this nation—this was not one of them,” Jemar Tisby, chief executive officer of The Witness Incorporated, a nonprofit “Black Christian Collective,” tweeted: “This assignment feeds the myth of the “happy Black slave.” It’s the idea that race-based chattel slavery wasn’t all that bad—they had food, clothing, shelter, work. They weren’t rich but they were content. This drivel shouldn’t be anywhere near our kids.”
Although the superintendent did not identify the teacher who assigned the activity, he told WDAM that administrators have met with the educator and there will be continued conversations.
The Mississippi teacher in question is far from the only educator who got a Black history assignment terribly wrong. It seems to have been a trend among the ill-informed. In a video clip a Delaware parent shared on Facebook last month, a teacher at McIlvaine Early Childhood Center showed a Zoom class various yoga positions while reciting in soothing, melodic tones her interpretation of how the transatlantic slave trade worked. And in Florida, a high school teacher at Island Coast High School tried to explain to his Advanced Placement students that slaves weren’t whipped and that the N-word only means ignorant.
Even at public schools that don’t fail quite as miserably as those above at teaching Black history, many K-12 lessons seldom go beyond slavery or the civil rights movement. Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson tweeted on Feb. 25: “With the exception of the trauma of slavery, I didn’t learn about Black history until college.”