Friday, November 12, 2010

Father Sues School District Over Reading About Slavery

Sigh. I guess people will sue over anything, these days. From Black America Web:

"The father of a black student has sued a Detroit-area school district claiming that his daughter was racially harassed by a fifth-grade teacher's reading aloud from a book about slavery.

The suit claims Jala Petree's teacher at Margaret Black Elementary School in Sterling Heights read excerpts from Julius Lester's "From Slave Ship to Freedom Road" that contain racial epithets and racist characterizations, The Macomb Daily reported.

The suit against Warren Consolidated Schools was filed Nov. 3 in Macomb County Circuit Court in Mount Clemens, according to court records. It was filed by Jala's father, Jamey Petree, and seeks more than $50,000 in damages.

District spokesman Bob Freehan told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the district hasn't been served with the suit but plans a vigorous defense. He said the excerpts were read last school year during a unit to prepare students for Black History Month.

The reading was from supplemental material provided by a textbook company, Freehan said, and following the reading students were involved in what he called a "positive" discussion about the excerpts.

The lawsuit claims the reading has "affected the conditions of learning duties and the advantages of her further education, and seriously affected her mental and emotional well-being, past, present and future."

Lawyer Scott E. Combs, who is representing the family, told The Detroit News that letters and calls to the district failed to remedy the family's concerns over the literature and the parents eventually pulled the child from the district.

"I tried long and hard to get answers and an explanation from the school," he said.

Freehan, however, said the school has given the family and its lawyer detailed responses. He said family didn't inquire about the lesson until April, more than three months after the lesson was presented."

I did a quick Google search and found this information on the Scholastic site about the book:

"An innovative picture book for older children, this unique collaboration addresses the history of slavery, while demanding the attention and interaction of readers of all races. Julius Lester, whose To Be a Slave was a Newbery Honor Book, uses eloquent text to interpret 24 of Rod Brown's magnificent paintings — part of a series of 36 that the artist created over seven years. Together, images and words reenact the 250-year journey from the first slave ships taking Africans forcibly from their homes, to the Civil War and emancipation. Aching with emotion — occasionally hope, but predominantly pain, fear, and anger — Brown's paintings depict such difficult truths as whippings and lynchings, the bodies of Africans floating near slave ships in the ocean, an angry slave tending white children, attempted escapes, and eventually, the final, joyful road to freedom . . . and a new uncertainty..."

I found this quote from the author, Julius Lester:

"I was born in 1939 in St. Louis, Missouri. When I was two my family and I moved to Kansas. As a teenager, I lived in Nashville, Tennessee, spending most of my summers at my grandmother's farm in Arkansas. Growing up, I wanted to be a musician. I was not a good writer and I never dreamed I'd become an award-winning author....

With the advice of my publisher, I started writing children's books. My first book for children was To Be a Slave. My interest in slavery was personal because three of my great-grandparents had been slaves. The need to know more about my individual past led me to begin studying slavery, and once I did, my interest grew and I became intrigued by the challenge of trying to imagine what it was like to have been a slave. I wanted to communicate to others that those we call slaves were really human beings, human beings pretty much like us..."

Okay, so using this argument, schools should throwout "Huck Finn", "Roots", "Queen", "The Bluest Eye", "Their Eyes Were Watching God", "Native Son", "Beloved", "Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman", "The Color Purple", "The Invisible Man"... I'll stop here, but I think reasonable readers will get the point. This lawsuit is garbage and really speaks to the greed of this father rather than racism.


Cat said...

This is unfortunate. It shows
1. How a person will go to the lowest means to get money in these hard times. I wonder how his daughter feels about this...
2. How over sensitive we have become. Our culture has conditioned many to go with our emotion over intellect; having people say "I feel that..." instead of "I think that..."
I can understand having a painful past. A lot of our history isn't pretty, but it makes us who we are. If we ignore our histories, we will continue to make the same mistakes.
Now, to me, it seems that this book and this teacher were letting the young people know about the unfortunate past of slavery in a way that was respectful to the memory of those who experienced it. The kids need to know the past to make a better future. It also seems that this father is more concerned with filling his wallet than his daughter's learning, which is, to say the least, unfortunate.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Cat, Your comment was so perfect, I have nothing to add. :-)

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