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Teacher Allows Students to Dress as KKK

Teacher Allows Students to Dress as KKK

Catherine Ariemma teaches high school history in a small town in Georgia. In her sixth year now, she has won awards for her work, but recently, she allowed four of her students to perform a historical re-enactment that ended with her on paid administrative leave and wondering if she would have a classroom to return to next fall.

Hoping to make a point about racism in U.S. history, four of Ariemma’s students donned the robes of the KKK and strolled into the school’s cafeteria. The other Lumpkin High School students were unaware the four were participating in a class assignment, or that they were being filmed as part of a video project.

Students reacted. Parents complained. School officials took action.

Ariemma’s students were also emotionally shaken when they realized just how traumatic their project was for many of their unsuspecting fellow students.

A teachable moment?

Lumpkin County High School is located in the small town of Dahlonega. Dahlonega has segregation and racist ghosts to deal with, as many places in the United States do — North and South. Four teenagers dressed as Klansmen stirred up emotions that many people did not know how deal with, nor did they want to deal with.

But in Ariemma’s opinion, discussions about our racist past are too important to disregard and not simply confront head on.

“You cannot discuss racism without discussing the Klan. To do so would be to condone their actions,” she said.

Others don’t disagree with her intent, as much as her method. Superintendent Dewy Moore believes Ariemma used poor judgment and that the lesson was not thought out or executed properly. For her part, Ariemma has asked the superintendent if the incident can be used as a teachable moment.

I agree with Ariemma about discussing racism openly and honestly. When I taught advanced placement English to 8th graders, I was expected to walk the students through Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The story is set in the pre-Civil War south and deals with a young boy helping a slave run to freedom in the North by traveling by raft up the Mississippi River. The book is infamous for it’s use of the “N-word” and for the stunningly racist viewpoints of even the book’s main character and “hero”, Huck Finn.

The middle school I taught in had a minority population of roughly 25 percent, which for Iowa was pretty substantial. Having students read a book like Huckleberry Finn was just one teachable moment after another, let me assure you. But on the day one of my students questioned why we should read the book at all, as most of the characters were racists to one extent or another, my answer was this”

“History doesn’t change because you close your eyes to it. The characters in this book reflect the people of those times. We can’t wish them away, or different, because it makes us angry or uncomfortable. We can only look at them as they were and learn something from it, and hopefully, do a better job than they did.”

A little warning would have gone a long way toward improving Ariemma’s assignment. First rule of planning lessons is always think of what can go wrong, and correct it before you teach it to your kids. However, an award-winning teacher, if I am to believe the media these days, is hard to come by. There is a teachable moment here for all parties. Let’s hope for Ariemma and her students that the Lumpkin County School Board thinks so too. 

 

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photo credit: 08KKKfamilyPortrait by Image Editor

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159 comments

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7:41AM PST on Jan 22, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

4:04PM PDT on Jun 1, 2012

dumb teacher

5:11AM PDT on May 12, 2012

Teaching about this in class is more sense than dressing the children in the costume of these bigoted people!!!

5:51PM PDT on Jul 5, 2010

I am somewhat torn on this issue. I understand what the teacher was trying to do, and I applaud her for it. Could it have been presented a in little better manner? Perhaps. The truly important thing, though, is that it started a dialogue about a very important subject. Better that than re-writing history.

10:25PM PDT on Jun 23, 2010

smdh

2:00PM PDT on Jun 20, 2010

I think she did what happened and made the children realize how wrong it was. I believe it was a hands on learning experience.

8:04PM PDT on Jun 9, 2010

The exercise was done from the point of view of the dominant culture out of which came the perpetrators (klan members some of whom were in the employ of the F.B.I). Where in all of this is the voice or view of the victims? As someone who is African-American I might design an academic exercise where civil rights workers are heavily armed, which is the true historical reality as opposed to the mythological story still being pushed in the U.S. via textbooks and the media. Non-violence is not synonymous with stupidity or self-defense. One of the stories I grew up knowing is that James Meredith had a gun in every room of his home and that during the civil rights marches and the voting registration drives many of those participants carried firearms. How would the school and/or the parents and general public feel about a lesson plan based on those facts? Imagine several African-American people coming into the school dressed as Black Panthers and setting up a food program or literacy classes and then being shot to death (not literally in the school) by police officers. Now that would be a true rendition of history as much as what this teacher purported to re-enact.

8:24AM PDT on Jun 6, 2010

Paranoid politically correct control freak who presume to know all in the hearts of all men and women.
Fire starters that seek to promote presumptuous communities of petty,ignorant hypocrisy.
Who are YOU to presume to have the right to shut down a learning dialogue in play form amongst children.
They are not complete idiots you know and to impune YOUR
immaturity on this teacher and the rest of society in the promotion of simpleminded fear mongering IS slanderous.

6:12PM PDT on Jun 4, 2010

Acting out is part of getting to know, this method of mine was barely misunderstood by badly-intended and illegally snooping people where I live in Portugal

9:38AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

If you are a teacher, you should discuss our history in words, not reenacting what they look like. And, yes, everyone would react in a very agitated state.

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