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‘That Looks Pretty Low Life’: Prominent Private School In Michigan Faces Backlash After Including Barack Obama In Lesson on Primates

A historic Michigan private school is facing scrutiny after a teacher gave students an assignment where it included a past U.S. president in a multiple-choice worksheet about apes and monkeys. The school addressed the lesson, claiming the teacher did not create it and pulled it from a “highly regarded university.”

According to FOX 2, earlier in the month a high school biology teacher at The Roeper School, a private institution in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham whose tuition and fees amount to $30,000 per student a year, passed out material for an “Ape, Monkey, and Lemurs: Introduction to Primates” lesson. The sheet included various kinds of primates, including apes, monkeys, lemurs, and one Homo sapien. The Homo sapien was past president Barack Obama.

That Looks Pretty Low Life': Prominent Private School In Michigan Faces Backlash After Including Barack Obama In Lesson on Primates
The Roeper School Primate Lesson

After the pre-course survey was distributed, students were instructed to answer the questions to the best of their capacity. 

The first question was “Who’s who? Which of the following are primates? It asked the class to “check all that apply” and included a peacock, prairie dog, a chimpanzee, porcupine, a monkey, the 44th president, and a lemur.

Shortly after class, the worksheet went viral, with social media users expressing outrage.

“The Roeper School in Birmingham Michigan is a disgrace. They are teaching racism and bigotry in school assignments! The GOP is worried about CRT that isn’t taught in schools. Here is an example of why children grow into racist adults!” one person tweeted.

“I’d be in favor of shutting down the Roeper School. Comparing anyone to monkeys, Obama or otherwise, doesn’t reflect an intelligent, unbiased educational program. Bluntly, that looks pretty low-life to me,” another person said.

Many considered comparing the first Black chief executive of the country to primates, although all humans are primates, to be denigrative, especially in light of hundreds of years of history of people of African descent being associated with apes and monkeys in a derogatory way. 

In the 1500s and 1600s, European thinkers proliferated an idea, connecting apes to African human sexuality and bestiality. By the 1800s scientists joined the conversation. 

According to The Conversation, “Leading scientists of the day Josiah C. Nott and George R. Gliddon, in their 1854 Types of Mankind, documented what they saw as objective racial hierarchies with illustrations comparing Blacks to chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans.” Another popular scientist, Stephen Jay Gould, believed the document was the “leading text on racial differences.”

During slavery, Jim Crow and the civil rights, making the connection between Blacks and monkeys was a common form of disrespect. 

The school acknowledged this painful history by sending a letter to the parents explaining that the teacher did not create the worksheet, but rather pulled it from a “highly regarded university” website for use within the class.

While the school did not reveal the top university’s name, Deadline Detroit claimed the institution was Duke University. The publication said the teacher’s “black-and-white version was printed or photocopied from Page 12 of this ‘Introduction to Primates’ course plan intended to increase motivation for learning.” The page has been removed from the Duke website.

“On behalf of Roeper School’s leadership, I would like to acknowledge the disturbing racial offense contained in this worksheet and sincerely regret its use and the harm it has caused,” the letter said in part.

The private school, which prides itself on diversity, teaches an alternative education and is billed as the oldest K-12 school for gifted children in the country, says the teacher has taken responsibility for not vetting the sources.

As a resolution, the school will continue racial bias in the class training for its educators. Students impacted by the assignment are now invited to participate in counseling.

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