Dayton teacher Elizabeth Clausen has been suspended, after including the painting above, “A Tale Of Two Hoodies” as part of a final exam. Some parents complained that the picture is offensive, As the artist who created it, I agree that it might offend some. The fact that so many unarmed black Americans are killed by police, without any justice from the justice system is offensive to me. So I created this piece to question if our criminal justice system is racist. Ms. Clausen saw the value in using the piece to inspire critical thinking, which is what good teachers are supposed to do. So Ms. Clausen, asked her high school students to form an opinion about the piece. A few parents were outraged, wrongly assuming Ms. Clausen was promoting some sort of liberal agenda and fearing that their children might form an opinion they don’t agree with. More concerned about the outrage of a few uniformed parents than fostering an environment where young minds can question and grow, the cowardly administration threw Ms. Clausen under the (school) bus by apologizing for her actions, suspending her and promising that such creative stimulation of critical thought would never happen again at the Dayton school district.
Apparently both the administration and the parents have underestimated those high school juniors, for they have organized to defend their teacher, who they consider a great one. They created a hashtag for their teacher (#FREECLAUSEN) that has been trending on social media and voiced their opinions to the press.
“The way that everyone is looking at this situation, they don’t know the context of what’s going on and they don’t know that we’re just forming our own opinion,” DHS student Cameron George said. “We’re not being told what to think.”
“Nobody’s listening to what the juniors have to say,” Felicia Dukek, another student of Ms. Clausen, added. “We’re the ones that are in the class everyday. We’re the ones that took that final and then … parents’ opinions are irrelevant. … They have nothing to do with it.”
Here are some more student opinions from SILVERCITYREADS before you get to the “Call to Action” referenced in the title:
What was the assignment, anyway? One student who had the same teacher, and a similar assignment in the previous year, patiently tried to explain the assignment to upset adults on a local Facebook group page, posting, "A teacher gave this picture as part of the semester final. The assignment was to analyze the photo and explain how the past has shaped how America is currently...The assignment was to ANALYZE what was happening in the picture and how past racial issues has shaped today...[The teacher] gave her students a thought provoking picture and told them to analyze what was going on with it. Heaven forbid there's some critical thinking happening in the classroom."
Another teen at Dayton High also tried to explain the purpose of the assignment to adults, writing, "This situation has been completely blown out of proportion by some of the adults in this area. This teacher in no way was teaching the bias behind this image as fact, nor were students asked to parallel the political cartoon to slavery as originally reported. Students were only asked to give their opinion on the cartoon and analyze the biases behind the image. I have analyzed many political cartoons as part of classwork, and never has it been a problem, because we all knew the teacher wanted elaboration, not for the students to internalize the message of the cartoon. Some of the people offended over the image think the students in this US History class are too young to understand the bias, and are thus being "brainwashed by the liberal agenda" (an actual phrase I saw used). These are 16-17 year olds who will all be of legal voting age within two years. Teenagers naturally start to question politics and government at this age, so being taught how to identify bias and express political ideals is completely appropriate for the classes' age group. As someone who had [this teacher] for two classes last year and loved both of them, I feel School District would make a huge mistake if they chose to fire her over this. Never has she made me feel she was forcing her opinions onto me through her lessons."
Yet another student explained the assignment this way, "I cannot believe that people are still going on talking about how they don't "agree" with [the teacher] on this picture, what is there even to agree with? Not once did she ever say that this picture was okay or try to make us think it was. And not once did she say this is how she feels about the people in today's society. When she put it on the board she simply said analyze this photo and write down how it makes YOU feel or what YOU see in this picture, not once did she try to shove any opinion down our throats. If you don't have the teacher you shouldn't have an opinion, jumping to conclusions and making false accusations when you know absolutely NOTHING does not do anything but cause controversy between people who have her as a teacher and know that she goes above and beyond to teach us about things in America's history and people who do not have her and haven't even had a conversation and know absolutely nothing about the situation. If your child has a problem or you have a problem with this picture that portrays events that happened in our history take your child out of that class because they obviously cannot handle the truth and neither can you. The only thing [this teacher ]ever did was ask us how we felt about this picture, so before you make false accusations about what you think happened form solid facts and then maybe you can have an opinion."
A student responding to the repeated assertion that the teacher's purpose was to push a particular agenda commented online, "[This teacher] has never tried to force her beliefs on anyone of us, the whole idea behind giving us this photo was to make us think. She is provoking thought in us, which is what a teacher is meant to do in order for us to learn. The amount of people that have resorted to name calling is completely uncalled for, you do not know her and do not know what a wonderful person, as well as teacher, she is. She is teaching us about issues that we face today, and though it is risqué, it's caused all of her students to open their eyes and pay attention to the issues going on around us. Please do not attack her, because you do not know her. She has always had our best interest in mind with whatever she does."
Yet another student posted a passionate defense of the teacher, writing, "As one of this teacher's students, I'm very offended that these accusations are being made about her. Out of all the history classes I've had to take, I've never been so well educated on American History. She has used pictures such as this one all year to get us thinking and analyzing what's going on. She has not once, ever, tried to shove an opinion down our throats. She has always let us openly think for ourselves. This post did not make me or anyone else in my class think the police force is associated with the KKK, nor do we think African Americans should live in fear. This photo portrays a time period in our history. If this offends you, you must be offended by American History. We shouldn't be shielded from these things. We NEED to be informed and that's all this teacher has ever tried to do. Instead of being offended by this picture, you people should realize we're old enough to have our own opinions about things and if we aren't upset about it, YOU SHOULDN'T BE! It's not YOUR class, it's OURS. It's not YOUR education, it's OURS. We deserve to be taught these things. I mean cmon, racism is still a very big problem today."
Another student wrote, "...I don't understand everyone's outrage. If she said "Write a statement saying why all cops are worthless pigs and how they do nothing but harm the black community", I would totally understand. She told her students to analyze the picture. and asked what THEY thought. Had this not OBVIOUSLY been Trayvon, no one would have had a problem with it. Especially if they were discussing civil war. but because the ARTIST (not the teacher) made something so recent everyone is freaking out. She is a wonderful teacher. I had her 2 years in a row twice a day everyday. She never once offered her opinion about anything. She plays devils advocate to spark thought provoking discussions in her class. All of you are very over reactive and you wanna know why NONE OF the kids in her class are offended? BECAUSE IT GOES ALONG WITH BLACK HISTORY. All of you take this out of context and this stupid "radio" show blasting her is immature and the information isn't even correct. But no one will listen to the kids in her class because we are "children and don't know better." We already have our own opinions about this stuff. We are juniors and seniors and can think for ourselves. And we are a hell of a lot more mature than most the adults on this page. The fact that all of you are going out of your way to get her fired is disgusting."
If you remember, the title of this piece is “A Call To All High School Social Studies Teachers.” I’m sure many teachers around the country have experienced those one or two squeaky wheel parents who make enough noise to scare your administration into acquiescing to their often unhelpful and uniformed demands and in doing so, throw you, your fellow teachers and the children’s best interests under the bus. Apparently, those malcontented parents with no education degree or experience in the field, know better how to educate their children than you professionals who have dedicated your lives to that endeavor. The lack of support and respect for teachers by their own administrations is frustrating for you and detrimental to the children’s educational development.
So the call to action is for all you brave high school social studies teachers out there is to stand in solidarity and use my painting, “A Tale Of Two Hoodies” to spark debate and inspire critical though among your juniors and seniors on a very important issue. Short of that, the less brave of heart (or untenured) can write on their social media in support of Ms. Clausen and don’t forget to use the hashtag #FreeClausen…. Class Dismissed.