When Ethics Alarms Don’t Ring: “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View”

A history teacher at the Great Hearts Monte Vista Charter School (in San Antonio, Texas) distributed an assignment consisting of a worksheet titled “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View”  to eighth graders. The idea was for student to list the positive and negative aspects of slavery.  After parent Roberto Livar posted to social media the worksheet his son Manu brought home to complete, the teacher was placed on leave and the school said it would audit the textbook associated with the lesson.  Aaron Kindel, the superintendent of Great Hearts Texas, which operates 28 public charter schools in that state and Arizona, said in a statement posted on the Great Hearts Facebook page, “To be clear, there is no debate about slavery. It is immoral and a crime against humanity.”   He said the school’s headmaster plans will explain the mistake to the history class.

I can’t wait to hear what that explanation is. How does any American living in the 21st Century not flinch at a title like “The Life of Slaves: A Balanced View”? It sounds like a joke, in fact: there is a whole genre of galley slave cartoons that rely on the idea that there is anything positive about being a slave is inherently ridiculous. (“It’s not a paid position but I’m gaining invaluable experience in the rowing sector!”). Yes, this teacher is incompetent, and leave is too good for him (or her). If you can’t trust a teacher not to hand out something that stupid, what else might be handed out? Hand grenades? “What Happened”?

Sadly, Mr. Livar couldn’t maintain the high ground, and had to say this:

“We are fully aware that there is a concerted effort by the far-right nationally to reframe slavery as being ‘not that bad’ and trying to revise the Civil War as being about ‘states rights’ and not about slavery. We were concerned that this assignment fell in line with that ideology and were naturally concerned, as well as other parents. These issues are not isolated to one school or one book. These issues are systemic and continue up the chain all the way to the Texas School Board of Education.”

He also said this likely happened because the school is short on diversity.

No, it happened because someone mistakenly hired an idiot as a teacher. Continue reading