One of the problems with teaching kids about the Bible is that the stories, by necessity, become even more simplified. Noah’s Ark, for example, becomes cartoonishly tiny, with carnivorous animals getting along perfectly well with all the other ones. But you would think people who write the lessons for Vacation Bible School, which many kids take over the summer, would know how to navigate all this.
Not so with a company called Group, which produced a 2019 curriculum called “Roar,” meant to be an “epic African adventure.” According to some of the church leaders who have used it, the materials are full of racial and cultural stereotypes.
Among the complaints:
- Students are told to role-play as “hopeless” slaves while someone else playing a “mean Egyptian guard” yells out things like, “What are you doing? Don’t you slaves know anything?… You’re the most hopeless slaves I ever saw… Maybe the next batch of slaves will be better.” The point of the lesson? To teach kids how “unfair” life was for those slave. Not dehumanizing and inhumane, but “unfair.” Because slavery is just like when your sibling gets a slightly larger piece of pie for dessert.
- They learn how to produce “clicks” with their tongues so they can speak a native African language… as if that’s all there is to it. (“Introduce yourself… with your new ‘click language’ name.”)
- They’re shown a video of the Maasai warriors jumping up and down (out of context) and told to imitate them so that “their feet make the sound of a crazy stampede.” The word “Maasai” is misspelled in the text.
- After completing the lesson, kids are told, “You’ve been able to see some of the people in Africa and the amazingly wild things they do!” Wild. Africans are wild.
- Africa, in at least one instance, is referred to as a “country.”
One mistake might be forgivable. But this many egregious ones? Does everyone who works at Group lack cultural sensitivity? Didn’t anyone realize there might be problems? How did no one catch these things?!
Oh. Yes. This might explain it.
— Shannon Dingle (@ShannonDingle) June 7, 2019
The responses from some VBS teachers has been all kinds of frustration. They’re urging their colleagues to rewrite the lessons as much as possible — or avoid them altogether. But the teachers don’t always get a say in what they’re teaching, and they can’t get a refund if they’ve already gone through some of the lessons.
Over the weekend, Group published a response to the backlash. It’s certainly not an apology.
— Group VBS (@GroupVBS) June 8, 2019
Maybe the most revealing aspect of that non-pology is the section about the “click language” complaints:
… This was included as a way of sharing a unique, surprising, and completely different language form with kids. We really have nothing like it in North America, and it’s cool!… When we learn a new language we need to practice it. For example, when children learn Spanish, they practice rolling their “r’s.”
But teaching them “clicks” is the equivalent of only teaching them how to roll their “r’s” and saying, “There you go! Now you know Spanish!” The kids are never told that clicks are only a part of the language of Xhosa… or even what Xhosa is. It’s just “an African language.” It’s just “cool.” (By the way, there are hundreds if not thousands of African languages.)
Somehow, Group took a book that should never be taught to children and created a whole new list of reasons it shouldn’t be taught to children. Instead of teaching those kids moral lessons from Jesus, they offered a one-dimensional view of African people (click click, jump jump, wild wild) then doubled down on everything after being criticized.
That ought to be the takeaway for the children in these Bible classes: “Don’t work for a company like Group. You can do better than that.”
At least then they would be learning something useful.
(Thanks to Kelly for the link)