Jefferson City Public School leaders issued an apology this week for a misunderstanding over a mock letter than was intended to illustrate a lesson, but was misinterpreted by some people when it was circulated on Facebook.
Jeff Luttrell, a social studies teacher at Lewis and Clark Middle School, gave his students a mock letter on school stationery that told them that some of them would be tracked into positions that would prevent them from going to college and would limit their future income, district spokesman David Luther said.
"The letter was part of a lesson on India's caste system and was meant to jar the students - to let them know that in some places simply being born into a given hierarchy could dictate their entire life," Luther wrote. "The teacher explained that the letter was not real to the students, but there has been some misunderstanding, and for that, the teacher and all of us apologize."
Although India's caste system of social stratification has no legality in that country, and discrimination against lower castes is constitutionally illegal, it is still widely accepted and culturally practiced.
Because Luttrell's letter was printed on an official-looking school letterhead, some viewers took exception with its message.
The explanation was published on the school district's Facebook page. By midday Thursday, the incident had generated a moderate amount of online interest. The majority of posters expressed their support of the teacher's willingness to try a new strategy to engage students, because it made the issue seem real and applicable.
"Most people agree the lesson itself was very good ... many of the students said that they thought it was a great lesson and it made them think," Luther said.
The two-day lesson continued Thursday.