House of Whacks

My son Jonah is in 5th grade at a Catholic school on the northern fringe of Baltimore. Due to the three consecutive snow days we recently had, he had to wait until March to present his Black History Month report. I think he could have waited indefinitely if he had the chance.

It wasn’t the subject matter that was the problem. Actually, I was kind of put off by the fact that they let him pick such an easy person to do the report on: Tiger Woods. No, it was the way that they decided to have the kids deliver their report that was the real problem: they had them pretend that they were statues in a wax museum.

Baltimore has a wax museum–the Great Blacks in Wax Museum–that was apparently the source of the idea. But Heaven forbid that they should take a field trip to the place–this is a suburban school, almost 85% white, and the museum is in the heart of an inner-city neighborhood that is nearly exclusively African-American and poor.

Instead, after turning in a report, every kid in the 5th grade had to stand at their desk dressed as their subject for over an hour and a half while students from all the other grades filtered through their classroom. They weren’t supposed to move or talk until another kid pushed their hand. Then they were supposed to speak for a minute about the person they were dressed as.

As clever as this idea might have been in theory, it was a disaster in execution. Jonah said that kids would come through and touch his hand and run to the next person without listening to him. Another kid came dressed as George Washington Carver and had a basket of peanuts that he gave samples away from to each person–a line built up behind him as people cycled back around to him to get more peanuts. And the 8th graders used the whole thing as an opportunity to abuse the 5th graders, squeezing their hands instead of pushing them.

I asked my son if he had learned anything, and he said, “that I never want to do Black History Month at this school again.” Great lesson, eh?


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