Wis. teacher on leave in probe of ‘slave games’

A seventh-grade teacher in Wisconsin is on leave after allegedly separating students by race and then telling the kids to research games from their culture.

For the black kids, it was “slave games,” according to a seventh grader in Shorewood, Wis., north of Milwaukee.

“I’ve never heard of such a thing. I never knew slaves had opportunities to play games,” Dr. Reshunda Stephens, that student’s parent, told a local TV station.

The school superintendent, in a letter to parents, promises action:

During a recent seventh grade Physical Education class at Shorewood Intermediate School, a teacher shared an activity with students on the subject of games from around the world. After the class on April 1, allegations were made that the teacher had suggested to African American students in the class that they research games that had been played by enslaved children.

The administration became aware of these concerns on April 3. We immediately launched an internal investigation into the matter. We have placed the teacher on leave, pending the findings of the investigation.

We take these allegations extremely serious. Throughout this situation, student safety and well-being have been our top priority. Our school counselor, school psychologist, Dean of Students, and the SIS principal have been providing support to the students who were directly involved in the incident. We wanted to make you aware of this development, and to reiterate that our students and families remain our highest priority.

We are committed to providing an environment of inclusion in our schools. We will continue to assess the situation and ensure that we provide ongoing support to our students as we move forward. If your student has any concerns regarding this situation, please encourage them to contact their school administrators or school counselor.

Jan Zehren, the teacher, has been teaching for 36 years.

“How many more times do people have to feel uncomfortable until change happens?” said Stephens.

Last fall, the school superintendent pulled the plug on “To Kill a Mockingbird” after parents asked that the “N word” be omitted.

  • crystals

    You have to wonder how many years the teacher has been using this particular “lesson” with no students or parents a) realizing how problematic it is, and/or b) taking steps to do something about it.

    • jon

      Some of these “lessons” live on well past their time…

      In the 5th grade I was supposed to interview one of my grandparents (or older relative, or just older person) about living through the great depression and WWII… I interviewed my grandfather, who remembered very little about the depression because he was only ~4 when it started and only a teenager when it ended…

      My nephew in the 7th grade just got the same assignment (interview some one who lived through the great depression, or barring that some one over 70). He interviewed my father who was born nearly 2 decades after the start of the depression and a year or two after then end of WWII.
      I was visiting my parents at the time, and it was fun to hear my father try to tell my nephew about what happened 2 decades before he was born, But I couldn’t help but think that maybe it was time to update the lesson plan to a period that had more people who were alive and old enough to remember the time period…

      • crystals

        Good grief. That is ridiculous.

        (In going through a bunch of my old stuff in recent months I found my 5th grade depression-era interview, also with my grandfather – at least he was old enough to remember it. It’s one of the few things I’m holding on to!)

        • jon

          I asked twice to make sure that he was doing a report on the great “depression” not the great “recession” (of ’08, which he has no recollection of because he was only like a year old.)

          One of those seemed like it would make a lot more sense for an interview of a living person.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            Considering the goal (learning about history from someone who experienced it), maybe questions about McCarthyism, the Kennedy Assassination, or the Apollo 11 Moon landing (50 years this July) would be better. I qualify to answer questions about the last one (I was 8 years old) but someone in their 70s should be able to provide opinions about the others as well.

          • jon

            McCarthyism or the Cold war in general.
            Cold war started ~75 years back, and only ended ~30 years ago…
            Plenty of people still around who can speak to it, lots of options for movies to put on when the teacher has a hangover (Wolverines!), and teachers can keep that lesson plan for the rest of their career (30 years from now will still only be 60 years after the berlin wall came down), and 35 years of american history and policy (some of which is still in effect today) that was shaped and molded by that.

            I can understand avoiding the moon landing, or assassinations, or terror attacks, those were events that people alive at the time might have “witnessed” but not necessarily “lived through”.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            With the specific events I can see your point. But in some cases they are events that were unifying in some ways. We’ll be talking the Moon Landing at the Science Museum this weekend (Earth and Space Day). We’ve been doing some of that since December (50th Anniversary of Apollo 8) and will doing another event on July 20 for the anniversary of the actual landing. For people who witnessed it, there are often specific memories of the event. So when I talk to families with young children I relate how I felt at the time to the kids, especially if they are around the same age. There are somethings that leave an image burned into our memories, whether accurate or not, that stay with us for most of our lives.

  • Al

    I’m thinking of how much trust I put in our kids’ teachers and how little I know about the day-to-day operations in their classroom–and I like it that way. As a parent, I don’t need to know every detail, every activity. It’s not my job to be the teacher. It’s the teacher’s job.

    Situations like this make me realize how important it is to keep teaching my daughter to recognize when racism–intentional or unintentional–is happening, and to speak up to me or to another grown-up.

    And how important it is that we have teachers who look like our students and have similar life experiences. Our own district is so diverse; I’d love more diverse teachers, too.

    • Brian Simon

      I have a different takeaway. I am reminded that I have tell my kids that schools are teaching one perspective, and that sometimes teachers & schools get it wrong.

      • Al

        This is also true and valid.

  • AmiSchwab

    slave games, to kill a mockingbird, milwaukee? oh now i get it