To the Editor: It was the second punishment for a first offense. Arguably, sometimes jeopardy warrants being doubled.
Rebecca Antinozzi was a teacher fired by a Bronxville school earlier this year for having her fifth-grade class stage a “mock slave auction.” She claims she meant it strictly as a necessary learning experience, which she believed the drama of the enactment would suitably intensify and make more memorable.
After being axed, she got a new position in Mount Vernon where she was employed without incident until the administration became aware of the earlier event when alerted by some parents from the largely African-American community.
The Principal instantly sent the Teacher home. An online petition demanded that she be dismissed.
Following the investigation of the Bronxville incident, state Attorney General Letitia James had Ms. Antinozzi undergo what the New York Post called “a series of racial reforms.” The newspaper account made no mention of how this was working out.
Is Ms. Antinozzi resistant to being held accountable? Is she “in denial” or remorseful? Was she ignorant of the hurtful effects that her “slave auction” would trigger? If so, did she proceed anyway, and if not, does that mitigate her culpability and appropriate remedy?
Was it merely an indiscretion or gaffe without the taint of cruelty?
Was it a “what was she thinking” moment that went terribly wrong? Did she grossly miscalculate that by making the slavery lesson more personal, immediate and disturbing, it would have a more lasting and necessary effect on their internal consciousness? Did she think that if they imagined themselves living through the trauma, that they would become more empathetic to others, which is a desirable goal?
Did she just fail to conscientiously plan the lesson? Was she so naive and lacking psychological acumen and insight that she felt that role-playing a slave auction would better enshrine the lesson in her students’ memories, because they’d be viscerally terrified?
The answers should have a bearing on her status and eligibility for employment.
Nothing so far reported points to a venal, racist motive. If indeed she was not so driven, should Ms. Antinozzi’s error nonetheless invoke a “one-strike-and-you’re-out” rule as relates to her profession?
She did not reply to The Post’s request for a comment about the Mount Vernon Principal ejecting her because of parental agitation on the basis of the Bronxville problem. But that is understandable and likely due to the advice of her attorney, rather than reflecting defiance or a doubling-down on an assertion of innocent intent in the disastrous slave auction matter.
Some Teachers feel that creativity for its own sake is always a good idea. They may be misled into trusting that originality is an end in itself and its own justification.
But historical events, especially, do not always lend themselves to projects like re-enactments. Slave auctions are one; Jews sent to slaughter in German concentration camps is another.
If Ms. Antimozzi is so keen on dramatizations, let her next time (if there is a next time) choose scenes like the signing of the Declaration of Independence or perhaps even a breadline in the Great Depression.
She is definitely guilty at least of a grave lapse of judgement, for which she should not be excused. She showed gross but it seems not malicious thoughtlessness, which seems not to have been conceived with willful insensitivity, although its effect on students and parents may not feel much different from had it been.
In the absence of additional damning information coming to light, a chastened Ms. Antinozzi should not be blacklisted from her career, although it will carry a stain wherever she goes.
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