A teacher in Florida just learned the hard way how the backlash over a candidly racist assignment can ruin a career.
The Fox Chapel Middle School employee gave her students an assignment entitled “How Comfortable Am I?” that asked her young pupils whether they were comfortable interacting with students of different ethnic groups, religions, and sexual orientations.
Asking them to rate each situation on a scale of 1 through 4, students were asked whether they felt comfortable when “[a] group of young black men are walking toward you on the street,” or whether they were content when frequenting a gay bar, or dealing with panhandling homeless men. Other scenarios mentioned overweight or HIV-positive individuals, people with learning disabilities, Muslims, Palestinians, Iranians, fundamental Christians, and even Native Americans.
In one question, students were asked to rate how comfortable they are if “the young man sitting next to you on the plane is Arab,” while in another they were asked how they would feel if their “new suite mates are Mexican.”
Karen Jordan, public information officer for the Hernando County School District, confirmed that the teacher responsible for the assignment had been fired.
In a statement, Jordan said that this assignment “[i]n no way … [meets] the standards of appropriate instructional material. After being made aware of the survey, school administration began an investigation and took immediate disciplinary action.”
The name of the teacher who was fired over this debacle was not revealed by the school administration.
Speaking to reporters, Jennifer Block, the mother of a 12-year-old who was given this assignment, called the content “completely inappropriate.”
“In no world, whatsoever, is that OK to question a child on,” she said.
Sixth-grade student Tori Drews said she got the assignment during her “Leader in Me” class, which focuses on teaching children about being accepting of diversity.
“There were children that were saying this is wrong. ‘Why are we doing this?’ ‘Does this have a reason?’ She was going, ‘Yeah this is kind of wrong … maybe I should take it back,'” Drews recalled. “Kids were asking if they could share it with their parents. She was like, ‘No. Don’t show your mom. Don’t take that home. I’m taking it back up.’”
The most horrific thing about this particular assignment is not only the insistence on highlighting stereotypes, but the blatant disregard for the implications of imposing such a questionnaire on young children.
By reinforcing prejudiced notions, this teacher has also implied that racism is inevitable with questions about whether they felt comfortable at all in situations involving people who happen to be different from them.
Regardless of any possible explanation she may have given herself when coming up with this assignment, it's surely surprising she didn't come to her senses earlier.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Flickr user Brad Flickinger