Miscommunicated Zeal

Feb 6, 2018 by

Empathy can backfire when it’s not properly managed. That lesson, hopefully not learned too late, may haunt a Bronx middle school teacher, unless the Department of Education “goes the extra mile” to see the “big picture”.  For her despicable misjudgement she deserves no leeway yet perhaps some grace is in order because her intent doesn’t seem to have been venal.

The social studies teacher wanted her students to vividly grasp the horror of the slave trade. She wanted them to share the pain, over the centuries, in a visceral way that would burn through their consciousness. She felt words on a textbook page wouldn’t deliver the appropriate emotional punch. Her aim was to enable her students to cross the barrier from spectator to personal victim.

That’s where she got herself into trouble.

She allegedly told three black students to lie on the floor, placed her foot on the back of a girl who had made light of her idea, and asked the girl how it felt to be a slave. The teacher then reportedly showed a documentary depicting the brutal maltreatment of kidnapped Africans being transported to America as human cargo on severely overcrowded ships.

Nothing suggests that the teacher intended to demean students or got any pleasure from their discomfort. Her heart seems to have been in the right place, though she was, to put it mildly, naive and off-the-mark in the manner she used to convey her urgent message. nobody is accusing her of deliberate insensitivity or wilful inflammatory behavior. No witnesses or news accounts indicate any history of racism and there are no allegations of it.

She appears not to have thrown caution and good taste to the winds, but rather to have been carried away by her own deeply-felt passions about a lesson of critical value. This threw her judgement off guard.

We can’t look into the soul of this teacher.  Her mistake was gross but not her intention. She erred through an honorable zealousness. It calls for counseling and chastisement, but not termination.

Ron Isaac

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