A white teacher taped together the hands and feet of two 13-year-old black female students and then ordered them to climb underneath a desk as a “demonstration” while she taught a lesson on slavery. At least one of the two girls did not volunteer for the demonstration, cried during it, and was deeply traumatized by the experience. The teacher still has her job, and even better commentators are referring to Eileen Bernstein’s actions as “misguided” rather than racist and abusive.
Christine Shand says it was a terrible experience for her daughter, Gaby, descended, like most Jamaicans, from slaves.
“She burst into tears, she was crying and she was horrified,” Shand told CBS 2 HD.
In a social studies class at Haverstraw Middle School, teacher Eileen Bernstein chose Gaby and another girl for a demonstration of conditions on ships that carried slaves out of Africa.
One African-American student raised her hand to volunteer for the demonstration. Gaby did not volunteer, but was chosen anyway.
“She taped their hands together, taped their feet together, and she had them crawl under the desk as if they were on a slave ship,” her mother told CBS 2.
Mrs. Shand said Gaby was traumatized. She questions the teacher’s judgment.
“There are other ways to demonstrate slavery. There’s movies, you don’t actually have to grab two kids and like put shackles on them,” she said.
Wilbur Aldridge, the regional NAACP director, went with the Shands Thursday to meet Bernstein.
“She said she apologized for causing any problems for the child, but she was not apologizing for using that simulation during the class,” Aldridge said.
But Principal Avis Shelby apologized, calling the slave ship demonstration a “bad decision.”
“And we have things in place to make sure it doesn’t occur again,” Shelby added.
Actually, it was a little bit more than a “bad decision.” It was a horrible thing to do to a child, and saying “but oh, I was teaching about slavery so of course I had to use black students” doesn’t excuse the racism. There’s a reason that Bernstein felt that it was perfectly okay to bind those students and humiliate and traumatize them in front of their peers. There’s a reason that she’s not sorry. And there’s a reason why she still has her job.
Worse, the impression is given that Gaby will remain in the classroom with Bernstein. Of course, with Bernstein still in a job and no statement on whether or not she has even been reprimanded, the other option is to remove Gaby from the classroom as though she is the one who has done something wrong here. Nice situation.
School is supposed to be as safe a place as possible for students. And teachers are the last people who should ever make students feel unsafe in a place where they are supposed to be learning.
Renee has a really excellent post on the matter. Go check it out. She also shares the contact details of the school’s principle, and has written a letter asking him to treat this situation with the seriousness it deserves. I join her in encouraging you to do the same.