BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Black History Program at a Gadsden Middle School has many of you talking on Facebook.
The superintendent calls it a success. But we spoke with one mother and child who said it was wrong on so many levels.
It happened on Friday at Emma Sansom Middle School as part of a cultural diversity experience. The school selected students randomly, with half of them deemed privileged and the other half deemed oppressed.
But one mother calls it all traumatizing.
“Tolerance," said Gadsden City Schools Superintendent Tony Reddick. "To teach tolerance. That’s what it was all about.”
Reddick said the memo describing the experience is going around on social media and stirring up a lot of controversy.
He said students were split randomly, some given gold bands deemed privileged or white.
Others were given purple bands deemed oppressed or black.
Teachers were given a list of guidelines, which included when to separate the students based on band color in line, or in the lunch room.
“Our principal at the high school and her staff decided that they wanted to teach kids that it’s important to respect one another and to love one another,” said Reddick.
But that’s the exact opposite of how eighth grader Jasmine Williams felt Friday at school.
“I think it was teaching children that it was okay to bully,” said Williams.
Williams said she heard students calling classmates names and said some used racial slurs.
“There were kids telling each other to get out of the bathroom and calling each other the N-word,” she said.
Williams sent her mother text messages begging her to pick her up early from school.
“I was actually very stunned,” said Williams’ mother Amanda Branco.
Reddick said the idea behind the program was similar to Jane Elliot’s experiment with her class in 1968 known as the Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes exercise, which divided students based on eye color to teach them about racial prejudice.
But Branco said all this experiment did was traumatize her child.
“When you have students who are not mature enough to comprehend the impact that this is having, or that it did many years ago, and they find it kind of a joke to be able to have a chance to bully these other students,” she said. “I don’t think it accomplished anything except teaching them what racism really is.”
But, Reddick stands by the program.
“It was a great experiment,” he said. “It had a wonderful result, unfortunately, there were individuals who didn’t get to see it and their perception was just based on a couple of words on an instruction sheet.”
Reddick said they had class level meetings Monday to sit down with the students and give them an opportunity to express their feelings about the experiment.
He doesn’t think they’ll be doing it again because of all the backlash it caused.