Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reading About Slavery As Traumatic Event

The November 10, 2010 Washington Post reports on a lawsuit filed by a father who claims a reading about slavery "racially harassed" his daughter:
MOUNT CLEMENS, Mich. -- The father of a black student has sued a Detroit-area school district claiming that his daughter was racially harassed by a fifth-grade teacher's reading aloud from a book about slavery.
The suit claims Jala Petree's teacher at Margaret Black Elementary School in Sterling Heights read excerpts from Julius Lester's "From Slave Ship to Freedom Road" that contain racial epithets and racist characterizations, The Macomb Daily reported.
Now, my first reaction when I saw this was, "Oh come on.  Either we teach about slavery--which is ugly--or we don't.  Grow up."  The cynic in me saw the following paragraph and wondered if money might be the real story here:
The suit against Warren Consolidated Schools was filed Nov. 3 in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens, according to court records. It was filed by Jala's father, Jamey Petree, and seeks more than $50,000 in damages.
I think I would like to see what was read to the students, however.  There is a lot about slavery that is disturbing, and perhaps fifth grade is a bit young to be fully immersed in that ugliness.  I am fortunate to be teaching college kids--some of whom are clearly shocked by what they are learning from me and from the textbook about slavery.   I would not consider the full awfulness of slavery, or the Holocaust, or the Inquisition, appropriate to fifth graders.

1 comment:

  1. In all fairness, the claim for a specific amount of money damages may be required by Michigan statute - it's a means of pleading jurisdiction in that particular court. Many courts require the plaintiff to affirmatively plead that the amount in controversy meets or exceeds the minimum jurisdiction of that court.

    Then, again, it may just be the latest example of America's most insidious pastime - suing for money.