Racism Video Class Assignment

A Georgia teacher has been suspended from teaching because of students doing an assignment for her AP history and film course. The students chose to do a documentary on the history of racism. I realize it’s still a charged issue here in the South; as a recent transplant from Minnesota, sometimes it’s mind-boggling how many examples I see and hear about.

The students in question walked into the cafeteria at lunchtime dressed in sheets and hoods and asked a fellow student, who happens to be African-American, to help them film a “lynching” as part of their class project. While they may have initially scared some people by doing this, I hardly think that their actions deserve a teacher suspension. At most, it should illustrate a need to have the students present a short storyboard/script to their instructor, at least for controversial subjects.
If the lynching scene was the only scene in the video, it would have depended on the voice-over narration to avoid being offensive. But what if their plan included a half-dozen scenes, and the lynching was only destined to be a small clip? Isn’t the response of the district and the corresponding media flap overreacting on a grand scale?

A great mini-documentary on the history of racism, to me, would have students briefly act out scenes of slavery, the Civil War, segregation, blackface movies, and the Klan’s activities. I’d use a 15-20 second montage of iconic images: a burning cross on a lawn, a group of Klan members in sheets grabbing an African-American from of his family, a beating, the African-American struggling to avoid a noose being placed over his head, and a silhouette of a very realistic effigy hanging from a tree at sunrise. Then I’d have continued on through history with Rosa Parks, the race riots, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and desegregation. I’d have finished up with Motown, funk, and R&B, BET, Ebonics, and the current influence of rap and R&B on everything from fashion to Top 40 radio.

I applaud Catherine Ariemma for creating a dynamic classroom where her students obviously are engaged in learning-where they aren’t afraid to tackle difficult issues like racism. I’d like to see these students FINISH the assignment they were given and post it on YouTube in support of Ariemma. Maybe they should add a new scene covering the media flap surrounding this, because obviously racism is not entirely history in the USA.

Any history or civics teacher could use this event to create a class project video or spark discussion and even debate.