Remember that time in math class where your teacher hammered home a concept by mocking Native Americans by doing an offensive interpretation of traditional dances in a fake headdress while chanting a mnemonic device?
But this is the experience that students at John W. North high school had last week.
In a failed effort to teach math, a Riverside teacher decided to don a faux Native American headdress and parade up and down the aisles of her class, moving in a “dancing” fashion while chanting in a monotone voice. Everything she was doing was meant to reference Native Americans or at least what someone who exclusively watched Peter Pan or old John Wayne movies would think of Native Americans.
A Native American student in the class recorded the debacle and posted it to social media. Predictably, the teacher was called out for racism. The school punished the teacher and put out the usual statement:
“These behaviors are completely unacceptable and an offensive depiction of the vast and expansive Native American cultures and practices. Her actions do not represent the values of our district. The Riverside Unified School District values diversity, equity and inclusion, and does not condone behavior against these values.”
However, it has come to light that this was not some singular occurrence. Apparently, this teacher has been doing this exact thing for years. A yearbook photo from 2012 showed the same teacher in another faux headdress and referenced the “dance” in a positive light. Although Riverside Unified School District would probably prefer to frame this as an isolated incident, this type of thing openly going on for the better part of a decade and even being included in the yearbook means that her actions somewhat do “represent the values” of the district or at least apathy in adherence to them.
Lost in the controversy: What was even the lesson? Turns out she was chanting “SOHCAHTOA” which is a mnemonic device for remembering the definitions of the trigonometric functions sine, cosine, and tangent: sine equals opposite over hypotenuse, cosine equals adjacent over hypotenuse, and tangent equals opposite over adjacent. It took most people multiple watches to realize that was the point of the lesson. Not only was the lesson offensive, but it was also redundant. “SOH CAH TOA” is the tool to remember the functions. It doesn’t need a catchy hook or a “dance.” Most of us were able to remember SOH CAH TOA in trig without the aid of an offensive display.
It is easy to point at this teacher and school, and you should … it went on for a decade. However, there may be other teachers committing similar acts that simply haven’t been got caught on camera. Is there anything happening at your school that would spark outrage if caught on camera? Think hard. Because, if so, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.