A Florida middle school teacher was fired after giving her students an assignment that asked them how comfortable they are being around people from different ethnic groups and backgrounds.
The assignment begins with the title, “How Comfortable Am I?” Then follows a list of 41 scenarios that students at Fox Chapel Middle School in Spring Hill, Fla., are asked to rate based on how comfortable or uncomfortable those situations make them feel. One means “not comfortable at all” and 4 is “completely comfortable.”
A few items on the list focused on specific ethnic and religious groups:
- “Your new roommate is a Palestinian and Muslim.”
- “A group of young Black men are walking toward you on the street.”
- “The young man sitting next to you on the airplane is an Arab.”
- “You new suite mates are Mexican.”
- “You assigned lab partner is a fundamentalist Christian.”
The others involved people of different genders and socio-economic backgrounds:
- “Your two next door neighbors in your hall are lesbian/gay.”
- “You discover that the cute young man/woman that you are attracted to is actually a woman/man.”
- “Your brother’s new girlfriend is a single mother on welfare.”
- “Your mother ‘comes out’ to you.”
A spokesman for the Hernando County School District said the survey was a supplemental assignment that the teacher gave the students. The teacher was fired last week, a few days after she gave the assignment to students. School officials did not release the teacher’s name, but said she was hired in January and was still on her probationary period.
“In no way does this assignment meet the standards of appropriate instructional material,” Patrick Keough, district spokesman, said in a statement.
Tori Drews, a 12-year-old who was one of the students given the assignment, told ABC affiliate WFTS that the teacher told them that the purpose of the survey was to learn about accepting people from different backgrounds. But the sixth grader didn’t think the assignment would achieve that purpose.
“I thought some of them were racist. I thought some of them were sexist. I thought it was completely intolerable,” Tori said.
Her mother also was outraged.
“How comfy are you if you see a group of black men walking to you on the street? That’s completely inappropriate,” Jennifer Block told WFTS. “In no world, whatsoever, is that okay to question a child on.”
Another parent, Rick Hunter, told NBC affiliate WFLA that teachers are better positioned to discuss issues about race with students.
“I think the school could do it a lot better than we could. It’d be a lot more comfortable. It’s weird talking to your kids about this,” Hunter said.
Many of the questions appear to have been lifted from a book titled “Exploring White Privilege” by Robert P. Amico, a philosophy professor at a private and Catholic University in New York. An examination of the previewed pages of the book on Amazon.com revealed that an almost similar survey, with the same rating scale that the teacher gave her students, was included in its Appendix portion.
A few scenarios appear to have been slightly changed.
For example, the survey in the book asks readers how comfortable they are if their assigned lab partner is a 62-year-old woman. In the assignment, students are asked of their comfort level if their math tutor is a 62-year-old woman.
A scenario in the book about a Muslim woman reads: “Your women studies instructor is a covered Muslim woman.” In the student’s assignment, it’s: “Your women’s studies instructor is a Muslim woman who wears a headscarf and a full length robe.”
Amico said that the questions he wrote in his book are clearly meant for adults, “or at least, at best college students.”
“They’re designed to help readers think about where they might have discomfort and where they might have some prejudice that might want to explore,” Amico told The Washington Post.
In defense of the teacher’s method, Amico said there are ways to devise a questionnaire to help children explore what their biases might be. In this instance, however, the questions could have been reworked to better suit the children’s level of understanding, Amico said.
The book, according to a news release last year from St. Bonaventure University, is Amico’s personal account of his own white privilege and “how he fought to transcend it” and hopes to address the difficulty that many Americans face in trying to understand it.
“‘Exploring White Privilege’ gives people the opportunity to learn more about themselves and how they are situated in American culture,” Amico said in the news release. “Beginning to understand privilege can help one to navigate that system differently.”
“Exploring White Privilege” is the second of two books that Amico wrote about race. The first, published in 2015, is called “Antiracist Teaching” and explores the difficulties of teaching racism to students, according to the university.