She had simply done what she thought would be an enlightening activity with her students. But what she had done soon caught the attention of parents everywhere. The phone wouldn’t stop ringing and the backlash was coming in thick and fast.
She hadn’t expected her post to cause such controversy on social media, but now there was no undoing it. And parents wanted her fired for it.
Causing A Stir
Karen Loewe has been a teacher for 22 years. Her many years of experience have given her some unique insights into the needs of her students.
As a result, this middle school English teacher from Oklahoma shared a post on Facebook in which she talked about an activity she did with her students on the first day of school. But she never anticipated that her now-notorious post would become such a hot-button topic.
A Controversial Post
Karen’s eyes widened as she logged in and saw the “shares” creep past the 335,000 mark. Comments flooded in. Friends, family, and the general public were determined to have their say.
News stations were banging on the door to get exclusive interviews, and the phone rang day and night. Karen was overwhelmed by the response. But why had this photograph that Karen had posted caused worldwide controversy?
An Unorthodox Approach
Karen knew that kids in middle school were going through a turbulent time in their lives. At this age, their bodies, minds, and spirits are growing and changing constantly. Having a safe place to share their emotional issues is helpful but, sadly, rare.
But to really make an impact, Karen knew that she had to do something rather unorthodox.
An Ill-Fated Idea
Karen lay awake on the night before the first day of school. She had planned the day’s activities beforehand, but she wanted to do something more with her students. That’s when the ill-fated idea came into her mind.
The idea for the new activity was simple enough, but she never imagined how much damage she was about to cause.
About To Cross A Line
For Karen, teaching isn’t merely a job but a calling. She teaches English Language Arts ate Collinsville Middle School, in Oklahoma. Her students are important to her and she cares deeply for all of them. Their physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing are all equally important to her.
This is why she decided to do something unusual with them. Little did she know, she was about to cross a line.
A New Activity
So, on the first day of school, Karen looked at the faces in her class. Some were new, others she recognized. Then, she opened with a discussion that would result in the now-infamous “Baggage Activity.”
She began by asking her students just what they thought having “baggage” meant. The unsuspecting students paused before answering, not knowing where their teacher’s line of questioning was going.
Most of Karen’s students said that having “baggage” meant carrying hurtful stuff on your shoulders. Karen nodded encouragingly before moving on to the next step. She pulled out a plastic bag and hung it on the classroom wall.
She then handed everyone a piece of paper and asked them to do something that had the whole classroom in tears. Parents and experts were furious.
Karen asked her pupils to write their own baggage on the piece of paper and put it in the bag. But the results of the seemingly innocent activity were completely unexpected.
“I asked them to write down on a piece of paper what was bothering them, what was heavy on their heart, what was hurting them, etc…” Karen wrote in her Facebook post. One girl named Jessica opened her backpack and tore a page out of her own personal journal.
“…They wadded the paper up, and threw it across the room,” Karen continued.
Once the children had written their baggage down and it had been put it in the bag, the papers were pulled out one by one and read aloud. Some chose to admit the baggage that was theirs. The stories and confessions made Karen’s heart drop.
You might be expecting children to be discussing topics like love troubles. However, the children opened up about serious topics such as a loved one or pet passing, disease, substance abuse in the family, and even about parents going to prison. Some were about bullying. The girl who tore a page out of her journal said that the boy who was sitting next to her wouldn’t stop teasing her.
This revealed just how severe the weight some children carry with them is. But some accused Karen of crossing a line. Then, she asked the boy accused of bullying to stand and read Jessica’s emotional journal entry aloud.
“The kids who read the papers would cry because what they were reading was tough. The person who shared (if they chose to tell us it was them) would cry sometimes too,” Karen continued.
“It was an emotionally draining day, but I firmly believe my kids will judge a little less, love a little more, and forgive a little faster.” But when Jessica told her parents what Karen had made them do, they wanted her fired.
Not All Dark
But Karen also admits that even in these moments of raw darkness, there was still some comedy, albeit dark comedy, to be found.
As an example, one of the children talked about the fact that their gerbil had passed away. However, they added this was “because it was fat.” Even so, the exercise and day had a huge impact on all involved. And when the principal began to receive complaints from parents, he demanded answers.
Defending Her Actions
During an interview, Karen explained the reasoning behind the activity.
“I needed to do something to make my kids realize that other people go through other things and some may be the same as them. I wanted them to be more kind to each other. The middle school age can be a difficult and trying time. I wanted to instill some empathy with them,” she explained. But many parents were furious, saying that Karen had done more harm than good.
More Harm Than Good
Karen even had some supporters: “I don’t know if any other teachers in my school or area who have done it. Since I’ve done this, I have had other teachers all over the world incorporate it into their classroom. My life changed because it went viral and people from all over the world contacted me,” she said. But not everyone agreed with what she had done.
“This activity, though well-intentioned I’m sure, does more harm than good and I’d like to explain why,” Addison Duane, a trauma researcher, responded to Karen’s post.
Adding To The Problem
“Research has found that asking students to relive traumatic events or emotional moments during the school day can exacerbate a problem.”
Addison continued: “The student may not give off any outward indication but the internal effects, according to doctors, are long-lasting. In fact, child advocacy centers are explicitly trained in not asking a child for a traumatic story more than once, to avoid further traumatizing.”
Not A Teacher’s Place
“It’s not our job to ask students to share intimate details about their lives (especially this early in the year). As much as we want to be everything for our kids, teachers are not licensed practitioners and it’s important we remember that,” Addison explained.
“It’s not our job to be trauma detectives.”
Not For Everyone
Despite the positive response from her kids, Karen did share a caution that ‘The Baggage Activity’ isn’t for everyone.
“I have a personality that, thankfully, has blessed me to be a teacher who the kids open up to. I’m very up-front, to the point, but also show them some love. I sincerely hope others just do whatever is best for their kids. We, as teachers, know what is best for our students and no one else can tell you what will work best. It’s your call.”
A Divisive Issue
While Karen continues to receive backlash, many people thought that this was an excellent activity. Karen admits that it was one of the most emotional days that she experienced as a teacher.
The post gained so much attention that by now it has nearly a million likes and over 637,000 shares. Any teacher can have an influence that doesn’t, however, mean they need to do ‘The Baggage Activity.’