The assignment was simple—to write a persuasive essay defending the actions of the Ku Klux Klan—yet the reactions to it were anything but.
Parents of the 12- to 14-year-old students who were given the essay prompt at the Business and Economics Academy of Milwaukee (BEAM), a charter school in Wisconsin, were startled enough by the topic to contact administrators with concern. The school responded with an announcement on its website yesterday:
We feel that the choice of topic is inappropriate for a seventh grade class. A new topic will be selected for the assignment […]
The teacher, who is African American, has been temporarily removed from the classroom while an investigation is underway.
BEAM’s suspended teacher—who remains unnamed—was, according to her original letter explaining the assignment to students, trying “not to teach the students the Klan was correct in their behavior, but rather to teach the students to write persuasively.” Of the 748 students enrolled in the school, 97% are black, and the teacher’s letter noted that the research would lead in to further studies during Black History Month in 2017.
Given the innocent nature of the assignment, the school’s response appears out of proportion. But given the plethora of racial tensions that have emerged across the US since Donald Trump’s presidential win, the suspension isn’t surprising at all. Many American teachers are struggling to broach race-related subjects with students, and students are also fighting amongst themselves.
A month ago, a history teacher in California was suspended for bringing a similarly unease-stirring topic into the classroom, comparing Trump to Adolf Hitler. These two instances will probably not be the last.