The story of The Little Rock Nine is an important part of the history of civil rights in the United States, but the way an Arizona third grade Humanities teacher went about teaching that history to their class was problematic.
A teacher at BASIS Phoenix Central, a charter school which teaches children grades K-5, decided to teach the class about the experiences of the Little Rock Nine by simulating how it would have been for them to go to school.
For anyone unfamiliar with the Little Rock Nine, they were a group of nine black high school students who were the first to integrate into the previous all white Little Rock Central High School in 1957.
They were met daily with protests when they tried to go to school. The Arkansas National Guard was initially used by the governor to prevent the students from attending school.
This led to President Dwight D. Eisenhower federalizing the Arkansas National Guard and ordering them to protect the students instead.
The lesson included having one child singled out to play the part of the Little Rock Nine, while the rest of the class yelled at them (students were instructed not to use any actual words) and tried to intimidate them.
The student who filled that role was a black boy whose mother understandably took issue with her son being exposed to that situation in school.
Claudia Rodriguez took to Facebook to voice her concern and anger over the exercise and call on the school to do better.
Rodriguez also addressed a problematic discussion with the Head of School, Rosalind Thompson, when she expressed concerns over her son's treatment:
"The Head of School had the nerve to tell me that there was some educational value in this incident because it started conversations in the homes of the other kids, AT THE EXPENSE OF MY CHILD'S EMOTIONAL WELL Being [sic]."
The school has also responded via Facebook, calling the exercise "well-intentioned" but acknowledging the harm done:
"While this lesson was certainly well-intentioned, we truly regret the strong emotional response this experience generated for some, and we apologize for not fully recognizing and addressing the potential different perspectives that could be raised by the exercise prior to its implementation."
"Moving forward requires an increased understanding of the cultural differences and sensitivities that inform how we talk and teach about these issues, and respond to parents' deeply held concerns."
"We are committed to furthering this discussion and we have scheduled another meeting with the community leaders, myself, and our CEO, Peter Bezanson, to continue this important dialogue."
Twitter users were incredulous, but not surprised, over the incident.
Trouble is kids get into their roles maybe a little too enthusiastically, and there may be underlying bullying issu… https://t.co/OdN8EMxxow— Matilda Williams (@Matilda Williams)1555777807.0
You can't do that to children. Arizona School Apologizes After Little Rock 9 Exercise Brings Up Trauma For Blac… https://t.co/F4XgYNq7c9— J Lee (@J Lee)1555834568.0
Several questioned why anyone thought the exercise was a good idea in the first place.
@HuffPost What is wrong with these people? Just teach the lesson and stop making our children reenact the events.— Bran's ADA Advocate (@Bran's ADA Advocate)1555727373.0
@HuffPost I never understand how educators can be so clueless/cruel that they can't foresee this kind of problem.— Fran Adkins (@Fran Adkins)1555726534.0
Rodriguez has sought help from social advocacy company Radicle Solutions Group in handling the matter with the school.
Richard Crews, managing partner of Radicle, told the Huffington Post that the community meeting Basis is organizing is just the "first step."
"We need to tell our stories and talk about our history, but we don't need to so at the expense of our children."