Teacher Under Fire For Using Cotton Plants To Teach About Slavery

By Erika Hanson | 2 months ago

cotton plant

Educators across America have been faced with increasing scrutiny over the past year. As schools shuttered their doors, some parents got a first look at what students’ lesson plans actually looked like, and a war on education erupted. Ideologies like critical race theory are often at the brunt of the issues, and apparently, even cotton plants can now constitute indoctrination inside classrooms, according to reports from a school in San Francisco. 

Yahoo recently reported a story about an unidentified teacher at a Creative Arts Charter School in San Francisco. The eighth-grade teacher brought in cotton plants to shower her history class. It was brought in as part of her lesson plan on slavery and the invention of the cotton gin. It was meant to show the crop’s impact on enslavement and the Industrial Revolution. 

cotton plant

The teacher used the cotton plant to show her students how sharp the edges of the shrubs were as they were picked by slaves in the United States. Her lesson plan likely discussed how the cotton gin impacted slavery, as the troublesome crop required more slaves to be used in harvesting fields. But the caveat with the teacher’s show-and-tell tribute was that not everyone agreed with her demonstration.

Parents were torn over the lesson plan involving the cotton plant. One parent, Rebecca Archer, was concerned that the lesson would have negative impacts on her mixed-race children. Speaking with The San Francisco Chronicle,  the parent expressed fears that the demonstration could “evoke so many deeply hurtful things about this country.” Furthermore, the concerned parent said, “There are people who think this lesson plan promotes empathy; I’ve heard that and understand that. There are a lot of people who don’t understand why it’s hurtful or offensive.”

But not every parent was against the lesson plan involving the cotton plant. One anonymous parent told The Chronicle that they felt the teacher was being treated in an “unbearably cruel” manner. They also added that their child considers the teacher to be one of his favorites at the charter school. “I think it’s insane they would treat a teacher like this and basically discard a teacher that has been so inspiring and dedicated. It feels like it was a lesson in sensitivity and empathy. That’s why my mind is so blown, and I can’t stop being angry about it,” the parent added.

cotton plant

It is reported that the school investigated the controversial cotton plant lesson plan within one day of the incident. The charter school’s director, Fernando Aguilar, said that the lesson plan did not reflect the school’s mission or vision. He also added that school officials were looking into conditions of employment surrounding the teacher, adding that they don’t “take things lightly that affect the well-being of our students.”

After the anonymous teacher brought the cotton plant into school, the teacher was reportedly out of the classroom for five weeks. Her absence is unknown, and the school would not confirm or deny whether or not it was due to a suspension. When she returned to the school on April 15th, she addressed parents with a message. 

“Prior to spring break, I taught a tactile lesson involving raw cotton in an effort to get the students to understand the difficulty of manually processing cotton prior to the invention of Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin. While this lesson was sourced from reliable sources, after conferring with the administration and hearing many of the students’ reflections, I realize that this lesson was not culturally responsive and had the potential to cause harm.”

-Anonymous Teacher

This cotton plant incident is just one example of why so many educators across the nation fear recent passages from states barring and scrutinizing how teachers can discuss lessons on slavery and race. Many fear that the fallout will have detrimental consequences. Moreover, many teachers fear they will not be able to teach history lessons regarding slavery, out of fear of retaliation. 

The issue with education, racism, and slavery is that it is an extremely sensitive subject, for all involved. Opposers tout critical race theory (CRT) as a catch-all phrase for anything they deem might make students feel uncomfortable or guilty about their race. But proponents of these teachings argue that there is no indoctrination, and these lessons simply teach young Americans about the nation’s long-standing racial influences. Either way, it will likely be the last time the teacher brings in a cotton plant to demonstrate the history of slavery.