So, how did different parties respond? It seems the school district did react quickly and seriously, with Superintendent Brad Saron and fellow school administrators initially emailing parents to apologize for the “grave error in judgment” that occurred in the classroom.
The news site reports that Teachers Pay Teachers removed the question from its site when they were made aware of its existence. That’s great, but also makes one wonder how many times this question has been used to teach students—and how many others like it slip by. That said, the company released a statement saying in part: “We unequivocally stand against anything that may cause trauma or further the marginalization of people of color.” The statement also described the assignment as “antithetical” to the site’s values.
The president and CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, Wisconsin, got wind of the assignment via a student’s parent and shared a screenshot to Facebook on Feb. 1. He (accurately) characterized the assignment as “unacceptable.” From there, the story gained national attention.
An independent lawyer who investigated the assignment, Lori Lubinsky, gave an interview to NBC 15 and shared that she’d interviewed the teachers involved multiple times during her investigation. According to Lubinsky, “Upon reflection, all three teachers agreed that the questions were inappropriate and never should have been given.” She characterized them as “remorseful” and sorry for “their error in judgment.” Which is just about the bare minimum, given the circumstances.
Lubinsky continued that in opinion, the teachers could not “explain adequately why they didn’t come to” the conclusion that the questions were inappropriate “before the lesson was given.” She continued to the outlet that the teachers “just didn’t understand and appreciate and evaluate how the questions could be interpreted by others before they gave the lesson.” Lubinsky noted that teachers “were not entirely sure” of the “origin” of the slides they created, but she concluded they did likely come from the Teachers Pay Teachers website. According to ABC News, the teachers collaborated on the assignment two or three years ago.
Johnson told Madison.com that he was surprised multiple teachers signed off on the assignment, explaining, “If multiple teachers saw this and it went out, that tells me they were not culturally competent.”
This is a really good and important point, and ties into the bigger picture. As Daily Kos has covered, schools across the nation continue to make headlines when educators are revealed to teach or say disturbing things. For example, the California teacher who used a racist gesture to describe Asian people to her students. Or the Louisiana teacher who posted a racist rant about Colin Kaepernick’s Nike ad. Or the Georgia teacher who blamed Breonna Taylor for her own death while teaching a class on Zoom. Or the time fifth-graders learned to pick cotton and sing slave songs on a school field trip. Truly, it feels like there are countless examples.
In the time of the pandemic especially, teachers are overworked, underpaid, and struggling to balance it all. Students and parents are exhausted whether kids are in online school or back in the classroom face to face. No matter what, though, educators do need to be held responsible when they miss the mark, and especially so when missing the mark can mean teaching racist, homophobic, or otherwise harmful messages to students. All students deserve to feel safe and comfortable in the classroom, and that simply can’t happen when the person in charge is spewing inappropriate and insensitive information. Impact over intent, always.
You can watch a video with Lubinski going over the investigation, as well as Saron going over the next steps for the school district.