Apparently, a high school history teacher in Georgia allowed her students to film themselves in Klan robes as part of their study of the organization as well as the history of race. At one point students paraded through the school cafeteria and confronted an African American student and asked if they could reenact a lynching:
”I don’t apologize for the project, a tearful Aremmia told CBS Atlanta. I do apologize that someone felt threatened. I teach about United States history. I teach about the good, the bad, and the ugly. I would tell the students, why don’t you film that off campus on your own time. Would I tell them not to? No, because that’s part of history and to not acknowledge it is saying, that it’s OK. I’m sorry, it isn’t. It’s unacceptable.”
Student Cody Rider told reporters the incident left him ‘outraged’. He said he wanted to fight the students when they asked his cousin, also a student at the school, if they could ‘re-enact the lynching of him for their class project’. “My little cousin comes up and taps me on the shoulder, and there was fear in his eyes,” he said. “He was like, he just started pointing, like he couldn’t even talk, that’s how bad it was. There was fear in his eyes, and I looked up and they are walking through the hallway in white sheets.”
The problem is that Catherine Aremmia should apologize if the story is true. As I see it there are two problems here. First, asking students to dress up as Klansmen has nothing to do with “teach[ing] about United States history; all I can see is students being asked to don Klan robes. A significant gap is likely to exist between their historical understanding of the roles they are assuming and where their imaginations take them.
The much bigger problem is the rub between Ms. Aremmia’s refusal to apologize for the project and her disappointment that a black student felt threatened. What is sad is that this teacher didn’t realize that even a cursory study of the history of race should have been sufficient to anticipate just this sort of problem. Is she really surprised that a black student would feel threatened at the sight of fellow students dressed as Klansmen? Shouldn’t that be a part of any lesson about the history of race in America? What did those students imagine when they asked this individual if he would like to take part in a lynching?
Finally, as a teacher I think video is being overused or perhaps misused in our classrooms. I would love to know what guidelines were included in Ms. Aremmia’s lesson regarding the use of video. What was the purpose behind dressing up in sheets and filming it and was there a discussion about the medium itself. Was this supposed to be a documentary, reenactment, etc.? How exactly was this film project supposed to advance their understanding of race?