Dover School Supt.: Review under way in wake of racially charged assignment

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Dover High School; inset shows image of video posted Sunday that ignited controvesy. (Courtesy photos)

Editor's note: This story contains material that may be offensive to some readers.

DOVER - As Dover schools begin an exhaustive review of districtwide curriculum in the wake of the release on social media of a racially insensitive video produced as part of a high school assignment, the head of the history department at UNH said teachers must be mindful when instruction focuses on dehumanizing aspects of any single group.

"Anybody teaching about the Holocaust, Native Americans, talking about one group dehumanizing another group ... they have to be aware of the people being dehumanized," said Kurk Dorsey, chairman of the history department at UNH. "I can understand why some people are upset."

The video was posted on Facebook Sunday by a Dover woman who has two biracial children enrolled at Dover High. Jen Green said her children were "devastated" by the lyrics sung as part of an 11th-grade history assignment on Reconstruction, a period fraught with racial tension immediately following the end of the Civil War.

As part of their assignment, one pair of students was told to develop a jingle on the Ku Klux Klan, Dover Schools Supt. William Herbron said on Wednesday.

Herbron said it was unclear whether the specific unit or lesson plans developed by the teacher had the school department's approval, adding they were still trying to do vetting and research to see if it did.

Some of the lyrics sung to the Christmas tune "Jingle Bells" include the refrain:


Let's kill all the blacks

Burn a cross in their front yard

And hope they don't come back"

Herbron said that since the video went viral on Sunday (as of today there are 221 shares and 20,000 views), he has been deluged with calls from media nationwide. The story was picked up by the AP and also reported in the Boston Globe and Washington Post among many other news outlets.

The teacher involved, John Carver of South Berwick, Maine, has been placed on paid administrative leave while the school department conducts what is expected to be a lengthy investigation.

Herbron said right now they are still completing interviews of all students involved after which a team comprising administrators, teachers and students will be assembled to determine a finding.

"The team will sit down and determine what did occur, what led up to it and why," Herbron said.

As head of the UNH history department, Dorsey lauded the Dover high school teacher's attempt to involve students in trying to understand the thinking of Southern whites in the wake of their defeat in the Civil War, but noted that periods like Reconstruction are fraught with racial prejudice and racial violence and must be treated with care so as not to offend any of those you are trying to teach.

"It is important to get students to think like people from past periods to understand their mindset," he said, adding that it's not instructive to "just talk about" the evil in the past.

"We have to understand how they thought about their own views," he said. "But it doesn't mean you endorse them."

The same educational thought process applies to the rise of Nazi Germany, he said.

"If you study Nazi Germany you have to find out why Germans found Hitler attractive," said Dorsey, who is sympathetic with Carver's plight.

"It sounds like the teacher was trying to use an innovative way to make history interesting," he said. "However, using a jingle could make it sound as being lighthearted ... so there's a risk there.

"If you have an assignment to ask them to think that way, they can end up saying things that are insensitive."

Dorsey said he'd been following the Dover controversy closely and even talked about it in his foreign policy class, where many students expect to enter the teaching ranks after graduation.

"We talked about how you have to think about your assignments and the worst case scenario," he said.

Dorsey said that while topics like Reconstruction, slavery and the Civil War can be difficult to discuss, it's important that as a country we "talk about what went wrong in the past."

Herbron told The Rochester Voice that after school administrators develop short-, medium- and long-range goals in the wake of Friday's incident, they will engage the community in setting up new protocols that might avert another such occurrence.

"We want to make sure all perspectives are understood while making sure everyone in the classroom is honored," he said.

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