Is the political cartoon presented below, too violent for 8th grade social studies classes? Parents at a local middle school located in Johns Creek, GA certainly think so.
Last week, Fox 5 (Atlanta) reported that an 8th grade social studies assignment had stirred up anger across racial lines. Although I am unfamiliar with the specifics of the homework assignment given by River Trail Middle School, I do know that it included the above political cartoon by Thomas Nast. It appears many parents consider the cartoon to be “…a little too graphic.” I think the issue parents seem to have is the gratuitous amount of violence Nast used in the cartoon. However, I am fairly certain that Nast intended to use violence as a medium for his message. Violence eloquently made Nast’s statement about the lives of African-Americans during Reconstruction. In short, he seemed to think the political atmosphere, brought on by racially charged groups, created an environment “worse than slavery.” Parents in Johns Creek however, would prefer that historical reality be taught in a less violently charged manner.
Many of the parents question the age appropriateness of the cartoon. I’ll admit that I use this same cartoon in my U.S. History class which deals with Reconstruction. However, my class is an 11th grade class made up of mostly sixteen and seventeen year olds, not thirteen and fourteen year olds. Fulton County Schools (FCS) insisted that the cartoon is a part of a state approved curriculum for 8th grade. Since that statement, FCS apologized to parents in the country for not providing ample context or cultural sensitivity when creating the assignment. Although I can understand what a lack of context might lead to in such a situation, I am curious as to what FCS meant by referencing “cultural sensitivity.” Perhaps they were covering all bases in their press release.