Traumatized and outraged, this is how students and families from a Spokane, Washington middle school report how they felt after a teacher brought raw cotton to class for students to clean.
The lesson, as reported by KUOW-TV, was not about slavery, but rather about the industrial revolution and the importance of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin and it’s relationship to American economics.
A yet-unnamed eighth-grade social studies instructor at Sacajawea Middle School is reported to have brought a box of raw cotton for the class and handed the cotton out to students. The children were tasked with the “fun” activity of seeing who could clean the material the fastest.
14-year-old twin siblings Zyeshauwne and Emzayia Feazell, stopped attending school after that lesson because they felt “hurt, angry, and traumatized.”
The twins told reporters that they couldn’t the reason behind brining raw cotton to the class, adding that once it dawned on them “what we were actually doing” they became uncomfortable and disengaged from the lesson.
Noticing other students in the room, the twins said that others “didn’t have any reaction like we did,” adding that other students “were just OK,” with the lesson.
Once home, the twins reported the lesson to their mother Brandi Feazell, who immediately reached out to the assistant principal.
Brandi said that when she told the assistant principal about the incident, the administrator “went into defense mode. . . worried about his faculty” rather than “defending these children. . . their health. . . safety, mentally and emotionally.”
The administrator, identified as Taylor Skidmore told Feazell that the teacher was in fact a “very kind and gentle soul” and that they would never hurt any students. And reportedly said that the only solution he could offer was to provide the twins with their own teaching room so that they wouldn’t need to be in the presence of “the white teacher.”
Feazell described this offer as an attempt at “segregation,” and was angry that the social studies teacher was not being punished by the school.
Feazell is now working with the Washington ACLU to fight the school over the issue in order to prevent similar circumstances from affecting other students in the future. ACLU gave a statement in which they claimed that the lesson in question was intentionally meant to “simulate the experience of enslaved people.” They quoted Feazell as having said that the school suffers from “racist culture and policies.”
The Spokane Public Schools issued a statement claiming that a third-party investigation would be performed to “fully understand the situation” in light of receiving a complaint. They added that “SPS is committed to transparency” and wants to make sure that all of their families and students “feel supported and heard.”
Author: Melanie McCoy