Texas Parents Upset by 'Segregated' Gym Class

Filed under: In The News, Weird But True

Some parents in Sinton, Texas, hit the roof when they found out their kids' gym class at Smith Middle School was segregated.

It's true. On Jan. 19, gym teacher Robert Mounts separated his students by eye color. The brown-eyed students started the class with exercises, while the kids with blue and green eyes took a break and watched them.

The Dallas Morning News reports this upset a number of parents in the town of about 6,000 people 20 miles northwest of Corpus Christi. At least half a dozen of them called Superintendent Steven VanMatre and accused the teacher of discriminating against Hispanics, African Americans and other students with dark eyes.

That was the point, Mounts told the Morning News.

He was reproducing the class exercise that made third-grade teacher Jane Elliott from Riceville, Iowa famous in 1968. Following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., Elliott segregated her classroom by eye color to teach her students the meaning of discrimination.

The results startled even Elliott, with children quickly adopting racist attitudes. She continues to conduct the exercise, albeit with adults.

"I've learned that discrimination and its effects are the same no matter where you find them," she said in a 2002 interview with PBS. "I get the same results with the exercise in Berlin or in the Netherlands that I do in the U.S. or Australia or Curacao."

Some parents didn't appreciate the exercise coming to their children's middle school.

But, according to the Morning News, teachers were encouraged to do such activities Tuesday to drive home the lessons of King's birthday.

VanMatre told the newspaper the goal was to educate students, but for some parents it "was taken the wrong way. But after explaining it to the parents, they all understood."

Mounts sent a letter to parents explaining the exercise. "At the conclusion of the warm-up activities, I explained the purpose of the separation of the students and gave small narrative about Martin Luther King and his importance in the civil rights movement and the importance of the civil rights movements in the lives of today's youth," Mounts wrote in his letter to parents.

He added that "at no time did the physical education department intend to punish anyone based on race or ethnicity."

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.