KKK role play OK in the classroom?

I was shocked to see in the paper this weekend a story about two schools in Georgia where students dressed as KKK members last week to do historical re-enactments.

From the AJC:

“Four white students dressed like Ku Klux Klansmen walked through the cafeteria last week at Lumpkin County High School, heading to a class project on racism and walking straight into news reports around the world….”

“But when a similar scene unfolded in a Gwinnett County middle school last week, when the students wearing the Klan outfits were African-American, as was their teacher, the story changed….”

“The incident in Lumpkin County in North Georgia deeply upset at least two students at Lumpkin County High, leading to a community meeting held by an activist and also a private meeting between community leaders, clergy and school administrators. The high school teacher, Catherine Ariemma, who is white, was investigated and is back on the job.”

“The incident at Gwinnett’s Sweetwater Middle School, which is predominantly Hispanic and African-American, has drawn little outrage from the community and no meetings. Some interpret this a positive sign, that such historical symbols are becoming a little less potent.”

While I can appreciate the effectiveness of visual teaching, I just personally think that the KKK robes are way too threatening of an image to be appropriate in a school setting. (Maybe in college but certainly not in high school or middle school!)

There are signs up throughout our schools about bullying and threatening behaviors and I think the sight alone of those robes is so menacing I can’t imagine how administrators would think they could be appropriate.  (In fact new anti-school bully legislation was just signed by the governor.)

Growing up in Gwinnett, I can remember in the 1980s seeing KKK members in their robes marching through downtown Lawrenceville on just a regular old Saturday.  It was shocking and scary just driving by it much less to see it in your school.

I also recall when the first African-American girl started at my Gwinnett High School (I was still in middle school but my brother was there) that the KKK came and protested across from the high school. They also set fire to her lawn at home to the best of my recollection. (It was 20 years ago but that’s what I remember.)

I am totally fine with schools talking about the KKK’s intimidation tactics. And I wouldn’t even mind in high school showing footage of their old protests but seeing it on a screen is far less threatening that having the robes parading through the halls of your school.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe since these young people probably haven’t seen KKK openly protesting maybe it wouldn’t send a chill through them. But had I been visiting those either of those schools, it would have upset me tremendously!

I understand the idea of using a word or image to take it back  — to make it less scary. But I’m just not sure it’s possible with those white robes – especially not for children.

What do you think: Do you think it’s appropriate for schools to allow children to wear KKK robes for historical re-enactments? What age could this be appropriate? Would wearing the robes teach it better than just talking or showing actual news footage from KKK events?

112 comments Add your comment

DB

June 1st, 2010
7:26 am

“And I wouldn’t even mind in high school showing footage of their old protests but seeing it on a screen is far less threatening that having the robes parading through the halls of your school.”

I think the kids in Lumpkin County got an amazing lesson in intolerance and racism — it just didn’t quite happen the way the teacher envisioned.

The first incident, in Lumpkin County, came about as a student project — a FILM — that was being made exploring racism as part of an AP U.S. History class. (The AP exams are at the beginning of May, which leaves the classes at loose ends until the end of the year, so this award-winning teacher keeps the kids engaged and learning by having them do a project exploring an area of interest. This group of kids chose to make a video of racism in America.) The kids in question weren’t “parading” through the school — they were being escorted BY A TEACHER to a filming site in the school, and ended up being spotted by some kids at an early lunch. I won’t go into the whys and wherefores of who reported being “offended”, but I can’t help but think this incident was completely blown out of proportion — there’s no reason for any reasonable person to think that three or four giggling teenagers dressed up in sheets and escorted by a teacher on their way to make a video is “threatening.” As I mentioned on the “Get Schooled” blog when this was under discussion, do these same kids get hysterical at Halloween when kids dress up as ghosts? Probably not.

History is history. Sometimes it isn’t pretty, and sometimes, it’s downright ugly. In this case, for kids being taught on a college level, I think it was appropriate. However, given the hue and the cry over this incident, I think the second incident in a middle school was even more interesting — and I think it’s hypocritical in the extreme to say, “Oh, well, it was African-Americans who were doing it, so it must be ok.” Either the robes are threatening or they aren’t.

Anyway, I don’t have a problem with it. Dressing up as pirates that stole, raped and murdered are ok. Historical figures such as Hitler, who murdered millions of Jews are ok. But portraying a few stupid bigots dressed up in a sheet causes mass hysteria? Oh, please . . . why play in to the “mystique” by giving the KKK that much power?

catlady

June 1st, 2010
7:29 am

I think trying to stifle free inquiry is a worse threat. i also think–My GOD–these were h.s. juniors and seniors in an AP class, in a county where the Klan is still active (and is probably the one pretty mad about showing its foolishness, rather than the few black students feeling threatened.)

Do we forbid students to dress up like Tinkerbell when we put on a high school play? Do we ban the part about the three witches in Shakespeare’s play? At what point are we going to draw the line?

As for wearing the robes vs. showing actual news footage: is it a better learning opportunity for your doctor to be to watch a video of surgery or actually (under supervision) PErFORM surgery?

Jeff

June 1st, 2010
7:30 am

Given the sources of the “outrage” (typical media sources and those who benefit from racism claims), I don’t take the outrage seriously.

Sam

June 1st, 2010
7:50 am

High schoolers aren’t children. They’re almost adults. This wasn’t an elementary school that we’re talking about. Also, this assignment is one they do every year where the STUDENTS make their own video representation of their assigned time period/topic. They weren’t enacting a KKK rally in the school, they were filming it for educational purposes. I think the intolerance is from the Lumpkin Co. School System, not this particular US History class. God forbid an educator think outside of the box in Georgia.

Nicole

June 1st, 2010
8:00 am

“why play in to the “mystique” by giving the KKK that much power?”

Absolutely agree.

MomsRule

June 1st, 2010
8:01 am

“The incident in Lumpkin County in North Georgia deeply upset at least two students at Lumpkin County High, leading to a community meeting held by an activist and also a private meeting between community leaders, clergy and school administrators.”
———- oh PUHLEEZE! D-R-A-M-A

I agree with DB and catlady.

Have a great day everyone! I’ll check back when there is a new topic. :)

Ninga

June 1st, 2010
8:20 am

Well said DB and catlady!

HB

June 1st, 2010
8:29 am

Read about this last week — twice, I believe — over in Get Schooled, and still don’t get the drama. In this case, two students were upset, so talk to them, talk to the teachers and students about keeping the assignment confined to a certain area or warn students if necessary that they may see the costumes in the hall but are in no danger (here in DC, news outlets announce if planes will be flying through our usually restricted airspace so people won’t panic), and then move on.

BlondeHoney

June 1st, 2010
8:42 am

Topic was done to death already in Get Schooled; I’m with DB and catlady and like MomsRule, checking out…have a great day everyone!

penguinmom

June 1st, 2010
9:15 am

I think what’s telling in all of this is that it is okay for black students to dress up like the KKK but not for white students.

I think to some extent we need to bring these symbols out of the closet, so to speak, and give them a full airing in the light of day to remove the fear and power that some associate with them. I personally wasn’t in this area in their heyday so they don’t have the instant emotional reaction that they might for someone who has actually seen them in practice. I think if we brought them out more in an educational setting and showed the lame mentality that they represent, they will eventually go the way of other symbols of power that don’t affect modern thinkers anymore.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

June 1st, 2010
9:22 am

Guys – I am sorry I missed this last week on Get schooled when my mom was in the hospital. I should have checked but didn’t — was just so shocked when I read the story in the print version and remembered them actually being out our school. so sorry for the repeat,.

Michelle

June 1st, 2010
9:23 am

I agree with the earlier statements. It’s not like they were putting on a rally at the school! They were doing an educational film for goodness sake! Now, if they were walking through the halls alone and flaunting the costumes, that may be different!

JATL

June 1st, 2010
9:25 am

Talk about overly-dramatic hysteria! DB and catlady nailed it. Once again, the news media has gotten wind of a bunch of nothing and taken it to a completely outrageous level. TWG -how would you feel about a student or students dressing as Hitler or members of the Nazi SS for a report? What about dressing as a character from history who was a slave owner (hmmmm George Washington or Thomas Jefferson ring any bells)? I personally don’t like wife-killers, but I wouldn’t freak out over a student dressing as Henry VIII or Bluebeard. Genghis Khan -now there’s a blood-thirsty fellow for you. What if someone dressed as Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden? It’s HISTORY for goodness sake! Those who don’t learn it are doomed to repeat it. I think it’s wonderful that most students today have NEVER seen a bunch of fools in their Klan garb, but they need to really have it hammered home about the damage and harassment these idiots have caused over the years. I smell self-righteous indignation all over these complaints and the entire story.

Theresa Walsh Giarrusso

June 1st, 2010
9:29 am

Cammi317

June 1st, 2010
10:12 am

I see no problem with filming for educational purposes. HOWEVER, I do believe that there should have been an announcement to the student body and letters sent home to make people aware that this was taking place to avoid the “shock factor” of seeing robed “klansmen” walking through the schools.

lmno

June 1st, 2010
10:14 am

The most shocking thing I see here is in your blog. Your school was just integrated 20 years ago???!!!???!!

KKK marched through the streets of Lawrenceville only 20 years ago too???

I thought that the KKK was ancient history.

Brown v. Board of Education was 1954 law. You are telling me that it was 30 years later before Gwinnett High had a black student?

jackal11726

June 1st, 2010
10:32 am

lmno- I agree, if you are saying the GCPS schools just intergrated 20 years, that kinda makes sense to why it feels like there are still inconsistensies in education in this county. Why the schools with predominatly large number of minorities are always labeled.

Wounded Warrior

June 1st, 2010
10:36 am

What about the crazy black unemployed man that went to ‘call attention to it’? He is the same one that wielded the sclc doors shut claiming he was the new president. Marcel Hudgins

HB

June 1st, 2010
10:40 am

lmno, the KKK is definitely not ancient history, which is why I think an announcement letting students know ahead of time that all is ok and not to be alarmed would have been appropriate and should be made in the future for such projects. I do believe the robes could scare some students depending on what they’ve seen and heard in their own lives. As a child in the late 80s, my mom and I saw the KKK marching through Griffin one evening when we just happened to be driving through. And I’ve always heard (never saw myself) that the KKK marches through Gainesville every year on Martin Luther King Day.

As for integration timelines, Brown v. Board was decided in 1954, but many schools did not actually integrate until much later, although I thought all were by the mid 70s. I think Atlanta schools were the first in the early 60s. My two high schools integrated in 1966 and 1968, and I believe the town where my father lives integrated the schools in 1970. Two of those were small communities where integration included building a new high school to serve all students in the district rather than integrating the two existing ones — I think that’s what happened in most of rural south GA, although clearly, they didn’t need 15+ years to accomplish that. It’s also worth noting that resistance to integration was not confined to the South. Angry mobs greeted African-American students being bused to previously all-white schools in Boston in 1970 or so.

JATL

June 1st, 2010
10:54 am

@Imno -THAT is precisely why students need graphic historical illustrations! I don’t find TWGs story implausible at all. I will never forget (particularly due to my horrific embarrassment) taking a friend home to meet my parents and see the small town where I grew up -about an hour south of Atlanta. The year -1992 -the place -Jonesboro -on Tara Boulevard where you can turn to go to Southlake Mall. My friend was Puerto Rican and from New York and fascinated with southern life, etc. This was one part I did not want to show her, and I could NOT BELIEVE we were seeing. Yep -full on KKK demonstration -robes and all -and the idiots were going from car to car with buckets (like firefighters and other charities do) collecting donations! The worst part is that some cars were GIVING them donations! My friend was freaking out and thinking they were about to drag her from the car for being Hispanic! I told her it was okay -they were morons and that it had been years since I had actually seen any of them out and about -that this was NOT a regular thing. I told her to look around at the other cars and see that there were black people, Asian people, etc. and they weren’t doing anything to them. The sad part is that no matter how much I told her that was a really rare event -I’m sure to this day she thinks of her visit into the southern countryside as being tainted with the Klan.

Just recently the Klan held a big demonstration in a town south of here. I can’t remember the particulars, but they’re still around. While their numbers are small, they are not ancient history. Also, just because something is law doesn’t mean certain people feel welcome living in a community and sending their kids to school there. Many rural communities all over the nation don’t have minorities living in them now -in 2010. And often when a minority family does move to some of them -they don’t necessarily experience the welcome wagon.

JATL

June 1st, 2010
10:57 am

@HB -I think I recall that Griffin demonstration! I grew up near there, and I seem to have a faint memory of someone coming in the place I worked as a teenager and saying the Klan was marching in town. I think it actually may have had something to do with “Driving Miss Daisy” being filmed there if I’m not mistaken! God forbid an old Jewish lady become friends with her black driver! Since the Klan hates both groups, I’m still confused as to why they even cared. I guess because Griffin’s youth and property was being “tainted” with such a horrific tale!

Andrea

June 1st, 2010
11:21 am

I think the lesson was relevant and considering the setting (an AP class) appropriate. It seems to have gone askew when the lesson left the classroom and went into the hallways and the lunchroom.

Remember, it hasn’t been 30 years ago that Forsyth County has a massive KKK rally in protest to the late Hosea Williams demonstrating with a group of black people that were (allegedly) “run out of town”. That protest was followed by a counter protest. It was shocking. That was during the time that Oprah Winfrey did a show from Forsyth County about it because at that time, no blacks lived in Forsyth County.

It is what it is and unfortunately in Atlanta, those views are still prevalent.

Vicki Katherman

June 1st, 2010
12:15 pm

It is History! Real actual History………for better or worse. Is it so much different than nudity being art? It is what it is. I see old historical war scenes
which include horrific death and destruction. I don’t like it but it happened.
So did the KKK. I would love to make all the unpleasant things just go away
but alas I cannot.

Photius

June 1st, 2010
12:16 pm

How about having the kids also dress up as SS Storm Troopers, jack boots, Death Heads and all – throw in the Brown Shirts with piano wire rounding up people in the 1930’s. It’s “just an educational film after all”… Bad move by the teachers.

Fnny

June 1st, 2010
12:34 pm

Editing history is neither right nor effective. The KKK happened. So did the storm troopers that one of the commentators mentioned. If we are discussing 2nd world war Germany, the brown shirts would be discussed. If we are discussing racism, you just cant blot out the KKK. They are active parts of history. If you don’t believe that 2008 Louisisana and the Jenna 6 should convince you. As to the protecting children clap trap, protect them from what? history? They should be protected from people who want to white wash history’s ugly parts not from it. That way they won’t be condemened to repeat it>

LWA

June 1st, 2010
2:06 pm

The school system should have made an announcement so everyone could be made aware of what was happening.

jan

June 1st, 2010
2:55 pm

Seiously, I am 54 yrs old and I my elementary school had blacks in a small school in north Ga. No, not Lumpkin Co. I think the teacher made a mistake by not informing administration regarding the filming and that was the only mistake made. Are we going hide all the horrible mistakes in history so our kids won’t get upset. The problem today is that kids are too protected from “bad” and disapointments in life. They happen, teach them and let them learn. STOP babying high school students – they know more than you believe they do.

iRun

June 1st, 2010
3:03 pm

Well, considering what Theresa said about Klan activity in the 80s, and her high school not being integrated (in reality, even if it was already legally so) in the 80s, and other saying they’ve seen Klan activities as early as the 90s….I think Cammi317 has it right.

The school should have been a little smarter about this. Send home an announcement outlining the nature of the activities the students were doing.

If they’d done that I bet the whole thing would have been applauded and had greater school participation and then a nice discussion on race may have ensued.

It sounds to me like a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.

Photius

June 1st, 2010
3:23 pm

It is inappropriate to have children dress up for certain educational experiences. I would not want children dressing up as SS Officers, Swastika armbands, clicking the heels on their boots shouting “SIEG HEIL!” with a Nazi salute – nor do I want to have children dressing up as KKK members. Topics such as those should be instructed via other means. After reading the articles and posts today it simply reinforces why the South continues to drag way behind in education compared to the rest of the nation.

not telling

June 1st, 2010
3:40 pm

The second incident in Gwinnett not receiving any attention is what bothers me. Reverse racism is being ingrained in people too. Racism, isn’t just for white men anymore.

jan

June 1st, 2010
4:00 pm

How do you feel about this topic TWG?

Bill Gates has made his scholarship fund off limits to white teenagers. The Gates Millennium Scholarship fund is financed by a $1 Billion endowment Bill Gates made in 1999. The fund explicitly denies eligibility to white students.

“Students are eligible to be considered for a GMS scholarship if they: Are African American, American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian and Pacific Islander American, or Hispanic American;”

Producer

June 1st, 2010
6:37 pm

The KKK was a part of history. The students were not advocating racism just portraying eventss that actually happened. Maybe this could have been a teachable moment for the school and for the students to be enlightened about the racist past of that organization. Instead it gave the race pimps a chance to squeal and feign indignation and do what they do best, fan the racial flames and stir the pot. Aren’t you proud?

M1chelle

June 1st, 2010
6:47 pm

I applaud the teachers for including this part of history in their classes. Many people try to downplay the evil of slavery and racism and the residual effects they have left through generations. I would have been frightened, not offended, if I had seen these people in the hallways when I was in high school in the 90’s. I think an announcement beforehand would have been key to preventing the drama. I don’t think either teacher should be disciplined. They are teaching history.

I think this is a great opportunity for some to see that just because it doesn’t affect or bother you doesn’t mean that others are not sinerely affected. Also, it;s aso quite obvious that it doesn’t take much for those who want attention to exaggerate actions to make them seem malicious when they were not.

Marcy41

June 1st, 2010
6:48 pm

ONE THING ABOUT IT, IT IS HISTORY! SEND THE KKK INTO DOWNTOWN ATLANTA, NEAR THE BLUFF OR THE OTHER POVERTY COMMUNITIES WHERE BLACKS HAVE JUST AS MUCH ANGER AND PREJUDICE AS THESE GOOD WHITE PEOPLE AND YOU WILL HAVE A BLOOD BATH MASACRE, RED ROBES INSTEAD OF WHITE ONES FROM THE BLOOD SHED. THERE IS ENOUGH HISTORY TO BE TAUGHT OTHER THAN KLAN DEMONSTRATIONS AND HISTORY. WHITE SCHOOLS DON’T CELEBRATE BLACK POSITIVE HISTORY MONTH AND THE BLACK TEACHER WAS IGNORANT BUT ALL YOU NEED IS 4 YEARS IN SCHOOL AND ANYONE CAN TEACH

LM

June 1st, 2010
6:49 pm

I remember seeing the Klan riding in the back of pickup trucks through downtown Macon when I was a little boy. My dad said something along the line of, “what a bunch of buffoons.” And that was my introduction to – and current opinion of – the Klan.
Those who want to mask, veil, or hide history are the very ones who are, whether consciously or not, encouraging the repeat of history. Perhaps poor timing on the part of the teacher, but the assignment in itself was not out of place for an advanced history class.

Chronos

June 1st, 2010
6:50 pm

Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it. Frankly, I am astonished that we have gotten to a point in society where history has to be whitewashed. Frankly the more graphic things like slavery, the KKK, and the holocaust can be made the better. Otherwise kids wont get it or understand it.

Benny

June 1st, 2010
6:51 pm

Nothing wrong with it – blacks play thug wannabe gang bangers every day in school.

R

June 1st, 2010
6:52 pm

Enter your comments here

catlady

June 1st, 2010
6:53 pm

I repeat: Do we then have to make announcements about everything that is going on in school each day?

“Vegetarian students, please ignore the grounds crew. They are HUMANELY pruning the bushes. Fresh greens will be served for lunch.”

“Students for PETA, please avoid the science wing. A and P students are going to be dissecting animals today.”

“Music purists,, the band will be experimenting with free-form jazz today. If you find this upsetting, please stay away from the band room.”

Etc, ad nausem.

Think about it: you see a well-known teacher walking freely (not at knife or gun-point) through your school with ANYBODY (KKK, police officers, tooth fairy, Teletubbies, Darth Vader), do you PANIC?!? Are you HARMED?!? The teacher was not being beaten and dragged through the school, after all.

R

June 1st, 2010
6:54 pm

Check the GA high school GPSs for US History- the Klan is mentioned twice- after the Civil War and during the Civil Rights Movement. Can’t fault the teacher for “teaching to the standards.” I agree- history is history- teach the good, the bad AND the ugly.

catlady

June 1st, 2010
6:58 pm

I would suggest it is the “good ole boys” of Nuckolsville (in Lumpkin County) who are upset, as they don’t like to be made fun of by this Yankee teacher.

blue_moon

June 1st, 2010
7:08 pm

Teachers are constantly told by administrators that one of the most effective instructional strategies is the use of role play and simulations in the classroom—While I think the assigment may have been a bit extreme–it’s no more extreme than teachers who have students role play slave/master scenarios–Teachers are encouraged to use anything except ‘lectures’ and ‘note-taking’ to provide instruction–which is kind of ironic, because once students go off to college, they are totally unprepared for lecture/notetaking instruction.

Shar

June 1st, 2010
7:09 pm

I saw KKK robes at last year’s African American History display at the Civic Center.The sight brought a wave of tears to my eyes. One guide explained that a strange phenomena occurs with one robe-the blood from a lynched black man disappears when the robe is cleaned, then reappears out of nowhere.
I think both teachers made honest mistakes personally, but this indicates a need for cultural sensitivity training among educators.

kab

June 1st, 2010
7:13 pm

I’M BLACK. IT DOESN’T BOTHER ME. THE TRUTH NEEDS TO BE TAUGHT. VISUALS ARE HIGHLY EFFECTIVE.

M1chelle

June 1st, 2010
7:15 pm

@catlady – Who said to make an announcement about everything that happens in the school? That is really take things to the extreme. This is no better than people exaggerating this costume situation. I still feel that a simple announcement would have sufficed.

To say that the horrifying presence of even pseudo Klansmen who were responsible for the senseless and terrifying murder of countless people can compare to the lifestyles of vegetarians, PETA and “music purists” is totally ignorant. I guess if it doesn’t bother you then it shouldn’t bother anyone else…

Marcy41

June 1st, 2010
7:18 pm

BENNY YOU CAN BEST BELIEVE ALL OF THEM ARE NOT PLAYING SOME OF THEM WAITING FOR YOU AND THE KLAN TO ENTER OUR NEIGHBORHOODS. UNMASKED IF YOU ARE A MAN AND SEE IF HISTORY WILL REPEAT ITSELF, I THINK NOT. THE NEW GENERATION IS NOT DOWN WITH MARTIN LUTHER AND TURN THE OTHER CHEEK. WE ARE WITH MALCOLM X BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY. WE ARE NOT RELATED TO KUNTA KENTE AND CHICKEN GEORGE IS NOT OUR COUSIN. I MEAN THE REAL GANG BANGERS. SO ANYTIME YOU FEELING FROGGY LEAP TO THE WEST SIDE OF ATLANTA AND YOU WILL BOUNCE BACK.

San

June 1st, 2010
7:19 pm

The problem was the students wearing the klan outfits wore them in the halls and lunch room….thats my issue!! The same folks that don’t see a problem with this, had a big issue when The President made his speech to students several months ago. Explain that foolishness!!

Pop

June 1st, 2010
7:21 pm

I wonder how some of you would feel if a few of the blacks and intelligent whites would have gave those klan outfit wearers a BEAT DOWN!!

Joe

June 1st, 2010
7:23 pm

Hey Benny, why don’t you grow some testicles and put on a klan outfit and walk the streets of Atlanta!!

Marcy41

June 1st, 2010
7:24 pm

THE BANKHEAD BOUNCE AT THAT. AND I AIN’T AFRAID OF THE KLAN. NEVER HAS BEEN, NEVER WILL BE AND I AM BLACK AND PROUD AND FOR THE RECORD I LIVE IN ROSWELL WHERE RACISM IS AT IT’S HIGHEST BECAUSE NO ONE WILL TELL ME WHERE I CAN GO OR LIVE. YOU CAN BEST BELIEVE WHEN YOU ALL COME AT ME WITH THAT RACIST MESS YOU WILL HAVE MET THE BIGGEST FOOL EVER!