Trameka Brown-Berry’s 9-year-old son Jerome wasn’t sure how to complete homework for his English class. His assignment was to “give 3 ‘good’ reasons for slavery and 3 bad reasons.”
“I feel there is no good reason for slavery, that’s why I did not write,” the fourth-grader, who is black, wrote in the space where he was supposed to list the three “good” reasons.
At first, his mother was “in shock” when she saw the assignment, she said.
“I couldn't believe they sent something like that home,” Brown-Berry told WITI. “Not only was my son in an awful position, but the students who weren't black — that's what keeps racism going.”
So Brown-Berry took to Facebook with a question about the homework, which was assigned Monday at the Our Redeemer Lutheran School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin.
“Does anyone else find my 4th grader's homework offensive?”
Judging by the response to her Facebook post, which amassed over 3,000 shares and hundreds of comments, many did.
“Yes, Very offensive,” one person wrote.
“This young little man is spot on,” another commented. “There is not, there never was, nor will there ever be justification for slavery. This assignment is ridiculous.”
Other parents like Jessica Smith, whose daughter Nora was assigned the homework, also worried what effect the assignment might have on her child.
“I know what they meant like, ‘What did the people at the time think was good about it or bad about it?’ but they didn't say that,” she told CBS58. “And my daughter being mixed, I don't want her to think that any of slavery was a good reason.”
Now the school is apologizing, saying the assignment “was not clearly explained to students and their parents” in a letter published by CBS58.
“We understand that, as presented, the words used showed a lack of sensitivity and were offensive,” read the letter from Jim Van Dellen, the school’s administrator. “The purpose of the assignment was not, in any way, to have students argue that ANY slavery is acceptable — a concept that goes against our core values and beliefs about the equality and worth of people of all races.
“We are committed to instilling those values in our students and are very sorry that the assignment as presented was contrary to our values and teachings.”
School officials said the controversial homework will no longer be assigned, according to WISN12, and that they plan to tell parents about future assignments that deal with certain “sensitive” subjects.
Brown-Berry listed additional requests for the school moving forward, including cultural diversity training.
Still, she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she’s happy with the school’s response so far, saying “out of a very negative situation, we were able to take to resolve this issue.”
“The moral of the story is, the only way to teach our kids to stand up for their rights and respect is to model it,” she added on Facebook. “With all of your support I was able to give my child a personal life lesson about how change starts with you.”