MADISON, Wis. (TND) — A teacher in Wisconsin has reportedly been placed on leave after a lesson she planned apparently involved having students act as if they were slaves, slave owners, and other roles.
The Madison School District decided to place Jefferson Middle School eighth-grade teacher Cynthia Ball on leave after she planned a "colonial tea party", the Wisconsin State Journal reports. The lesson was reportedly on the Revolutionary War and involved having students play the roles of historical figures, some of who were enslaved people and others who owned slaves.
Students were reportedly instructed to pick a character at random and then memorize and recite lines during the tea party after they had researched the selected character.
As we have learned, it was frowned upon for women & non-white men to express themselves politically during this time period,” the written assignment read. “Because of this, there are more white male ‘characters’ than non-white male or female ‘characters.’ This means that some of you will be a person of a different gender or race.
A parent of one of the students in Ball's class, Meghan Walsh, told the Wisconsin State Journal her son, who is Black, would have refused to do the assignment if he had gotten assigned the role of a slave. Walsh's child was reportedly assigned the role of Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene, who was a slave owner. One of her son's friends, who is also Black, was assigned the role of an enslaved person, Walsh says. Walsh has taught children for years, according to the report.
“He also said to me, ‘Ms. Ball told us, “Now don’t freak out about the race or the gender of the person you pick, you know this is all just pretend,”’” Walsh says to the Wisconsin State Journal. “I understand, over the history of educating students, that these are the kinds of assignments that create racial harm in classrooms.”
After concerns were raised, the tea party was reportedly canceled on the day it was scheduled.
It was found the assignment included students assuming the identity of a variety of ‘characters’ from the colonial time period. Students were to assume stereotypical roles which brought racialized harm,” Jefferson Middle School Principal Sue Abplanalp reportedly said in an email to parents.
Ball was then placed on leave pending an internal review, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. Walsh says she is satisfied with the district's response to the assignment.
“We knew there had to be an investigation and they were good on their word that they would not bring her back into the classroom until that had been finished,” Walsh said in her interview with the Wisconsin State Journal. “It doesn’t take much of a leap to get why this isn’t OK and especially in a school district that has really assured its community that they’re going to make sure that this curriculum is not racially harming and is inclusive.”
A local teachers union is reportedly in support of the internal review of the assignment.
“We believe that any harm related to this situation, whether intentional or not, needs to be addressed,” union representative Michelle Michalak said in an email according to the Wisconsin State Journal. “We have to ensure that students, families, and staff of color are supported, and at the same time, work to understand how we can use these experiences to learn and grow as educators and human beings.”
Ball has reportedly been a teacher in the district for decades. Walsh tells the Wisconsin State Journal her now 29-year-old son had Ball as a teacher when he was in school.