Chicago boy called a slaveRecently, my son, a second grade gifted student at a Chicago Public School, was called a “slave” by his teacher when he hit another boy in the arm because a girl told him to.

“That makes you a slave. You did what somebody else told you to do so you’re a slave” were her exact words to my seven-year old. In a situation where a child behaved in a way that made him “a follower,” he somehow became a “slave.”

When he got home, my son passionately recounted the story to me, saying:

“I’m not a slave, I’m a human being and I deserve to be respected like one. She might as well have just called me a nigger. It’s like back in the day during segregation when the white people would say whatever they wanted to black people and call them names and hurt their feelings. That’s what she did to me, she hurt my feelings.”

And I was enraged. How dare she? My son’s teacher is also African American, but that brings no comfort. It does nothing to negate the fact that she demeaned my son in front of his peers, degraded him or made him question, even if only for a moment, if the fact that he is black is a horrible thing. In an instant, much of the hard work that has been put into making sure he remained positive about who he is was diminished.

My child is a brilliant young man who doesn’t take many things at face value. He challenges popular opinions and theories, and thinks outside of the box. He is also very much aware of what being a young black boy means, and what people of color have overcome in this country. He acknowledges the fact that, because of this, he may face some challenges in life. Therefore, it is my constant struggle to keep that knowledge, those ideals, our history, and his sense of self away from negatively affecting his development and growth.

When I spoke to the offending teacher about her words to my son or the impact it had on hm, she felt no regret. She actually told me, “Someone has to instill some fear in these children and keep them out of jail,” as if she was doing him a favor. I was flabbergasted! For an educator to think that the only way our children will be productive members of society is by scaring them in this way is ridiculous.

I send my son to school to be educated so he can be successful. I do not send him to school to be harmed or degraded in a public forum, or for him to be hurt by a poorly-chosen words that cut him down. We have a responsibility as parents and educators to build children up, keep them informed, cultivate conscious and responsible individuals, empower and arm them with knowledge. We should never say things to break them down, dampen their spirits, or be offensive to them, even in the spirit of saving them from themselves.

What I learned from this experience is that the system does not necessarily work for children and their parents. It’s not truly set up for our children to be supported and encouraged while they are away from us. I’m disheartened, but not discouraged, and as long as there is breath in my body I will fight for my child and be his biggest advocate.

We are to be reminded though, that every child doesn’t have an advocate, or a voice as loud as my own, but they deserve the exact same respect. It is when we take that into account that we realize this system is flawed, needs to be reviewed, and change needs to come quickly. Indeed, “It takes a village to raise a child” but when the village chief breaks them down, we’re left to build them back up.

My son is not a “slave” for making a mistake in hitting another child. He recognizes his wrongdoing and apologized to both the other boy and his teacher. But this experience left a bigger scar on him than he deserved.


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  • ChezCerise

    I’m sorry. I agree with the teacher.

    It was a teaching moment.

    I bet he will think twice before he ever follows anybody again. And I’m sure others in the class that heard this exchange will think twice.

    Doesn’t matter whether he’s a good kid or not. Being a follower=slave.

  • Socially Maladjusted

    Aw shit

    I had typed a whole supporting the mom and son, but not looking at it from the point of view of the child/parents who got hit.

    Yeh if a boy hit my son over a girl, I’d be visiting his father and when I finished with his father, I’d insist that his mother say to my –

    leed-el frehn


  • Unknown

    Are we forgetting here that these CHILDREN are SEVEN YEAR OLD SECOND GRADERS?!?!?! Are we letting that fact escape us? That yes all of them are bright, articulate, children but that they are are CHILDREN nonetheless?!?! They make childish mistakes, they do childish things, and act without weighing the consequences and repercussions of those actions, but these are the moments where we TEACH them the tough lessons and make sure they know what NOT TO DO in the future?!?!

    We shouldnt have to teach the children these same lessons AND teach the EDUCATOR as well. I never read anywhere that gifted students are better children, and Ive certainly never met a perfect child in my life, but maybe some of you have them or have met some, maybe its just me. The teacher should have known how to act in this situation and should have been a better example to these children.

    I wonder if you all would repeat these same sentiments to your own children if they came to you and said what that little boy said to his mother, if your child had those same feelings as that little boy.

    • ChezCerise

      I’ve met some pretty advanced kids but I HIGHLY doubt that the quote was his response word for word. I mean he’s a SEVEN year old SECOND GRADER. I believe it to be embellished.

    • Yeah ChezCherise. Because it’s absolutely impossible for a 7-year old to be that smart and make the connection.

      And this is why we can’t have nice things. We’re expecting so little of these kids that when they do show levels of knowledge like this, we think it’s surely made up. That’s real presumptuous on your part. And keep the tome comment you were going to use to respond to his. No dambs were given.

    • ChezCerise


      I know it’s possible because I was one of those “gifted and talented” kids. Skipped 2 grades and also had the opportunity to assist in those classes when I was in college.

      My point is this: if he is intelligent enough to make that connection to his mother, then he is intelligent enough to understand the dialogue between himself and his teacher. Children who are capable of more need things broken down to them differently. Taking his cookies wouldn’t have mattered a damn.

      He’s 7. He is old enough and smart enough to be a little more articulate than the “normal” kids in his class and make the connection to his mother. But he’s “only 7” so he can’t understand and learn from what the teacher said…because he’s “only 7”.

    • itsme


  • Rastaman

    I am going to have to side with the teacher in this case, while her words on the surface may have been indelicate her motive has she explained it was noble. While it is important to nurture positive feelings in our children to arm them with the confidence to take on the world we have to be careful to not reinforce their negative impulses especially when they are called on it by other authority figures. While the author did lecture her son on why it is important to not hit other children unprovoked she should have also taken the occasion to explain to her son why bad behavior will elicit terms of degradation from others. Terms that may very well be hurtful but a consequence of our acts.

    Teachers have difficult jobs. Most of us have a hard time supervising one or two children at most, imagine having to do that for 20-30 kids 5 days a week and then going home to your own life. My own mother was a strong advocate for her own children but she always made a point of never letting us forget that when we misbehaved we open ourselves up to criticism and not all of it will make us feel good.

    I believe the teacher’s intent was to tell the child that he was behaving like a slave by doing something without thinking and because he was directed another person; similarly to when we say we “hate” someone when it is generally that we dislike their behavior.

    There are no winners in these situations as the best course of action is not an adversarial one between parent and teachers but a cooperative. Making an enemy of the teacher or of the system is a lose/lose for this parent and her child and may irreparably damage any future relationship between the teacher and the student. I don’t know any teachers who are out to make their students lives any worst but there are many parents who often display disrespect to teachers and the job they do and communicate that to their children. I advise the author to get over it because the sooner she does the better it will be for her son. Plus it will not be the last time in his life that his feelings will be hurt and she won’t be able to come to his rescue at all times in the future.

    • Socially Maladjusted


      Yeh – the more you move away from visceral reactions, the more points of view and concomitant factors to consider.

      good post.

    • Michelle

      This right here! 100% agree.

  • Jennifer

    I taught kindergarten and 1st grade for seven years, and yes, some children ARE that articulate, my daughter is 6 and speaks the same way. Anyway…using an insensitive insult to reprimand a child is NEVER appropriate, seriously, who is the child and who is the adult? Anyone who spent one day in a child development class…which many people who aren’t teachers have not…knows that physical aggression and peer pressure are developmental stages that are innate and should be corrected. The “adult” in the room should have used this opportunity to address the dangers of peer pressure and corrected her ignorance when confronted with it by the parent. Seven year olds are still trying to learn to express themselves appropriately, obviously the teacher (and some of the commenters) haven’t yet reached that level of development.