Imagine being one of only three African-American children in a class of 26 eighth graders in a rural North Carolina school.
Then imagine that, as part of an effort to observe Black History Month, your teacher instructs you and your classmates to discuss the "good" aspects of slavery -- even offering 10 extra points on the next test to the student offering the "best" answer.
That's the situation that sisters Tatiana and Timeca West of Davidson County, N.C. found themselves in last month in veteran teacher Kathy Proctor's language-arts class at North Davidson Middle School, according to a report that originally appeared in the Winston-Salem Chronicle:
According to Tatiana and Timeca, some of the perks of slavery suggested by their classmates were slaves' "feeding the animals and washing them" and "not having to do hard labor." Both answers were added to the chalkboard by Proctor. Downfalls of slavery, per the students, were slave owners "having to provide shelter for your slaves" and "having to replace slaves if they died or ran away."
The girls say they sat dumbfounded during the lively discussion.
"I felt bad because there's nothing good about being a slave," Timeca said.
The sisters say they were humiliated and angered by the assignment. At one point during the brainstorming session, Proctor reportedly stepped out of the room, during which time a white classmate jokingly asked Timeca to "clean my shoe off."
Outraged upon hearing about the incident, the girls' father contacted the Davidson County Board of Education (which happens to be all white in a county that is about 9 percent black). That led to a meeting between him; his daughers; Principal Bruce Johnson; and Proctor, who reportedly apologized to the girls and their father at the board official's insistence. The board also ordered Proctor to apologize to the entire class the following day.
Though Proctor and Johnson declined to comment for the Chronicle's story, Davidson County Schools Attorney David Inabinett offered this statement:
"On something involving students or personnel, we are not at liberty to discuss a lot of details," Inabinett said. "I don't know the exact content of the discussion, but I think it's fair to say there were several (students) who felt uncomfortable and that their parents brought that to the school's attention. Immediate action was taken to review what had occurred and to bring all the parties involved together for a full and frank discussion about the matter... It appeared that everybody was able to share their feelings and agree that this was something that was unfortunate, but were able to feel any differences were resolved."
But the girls' father, who goes by the single name of Aszullayme, told the paper that while the girls feel somewhat better since their teacher apologized, he doesn't think anything was resolved. He contacted the Winston-Salem, N.C. branch of the NAACP, which is reportedly working with the Davidson County chapter to make sure the case is not, as chapter President Stephen Hairston said, "swept under the rug."
This ugly situation raises some questions: Is the teacher in question really so ignorant about slavery that she thinks it has a "good" side, or is she just cruel? And in either case, is someone like that really qualified to teach in North Carolina's public schools?