Slaves

Photo credit: Everett Historical / Shutterstock.com

Each year, there are stories of a clueless teacher who decided to give a lesson on slavery to young kids. This time it occurred at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California. Eighth-grade students had their hands bound with duct tape, were yelled at and forced to lie down in a dark room.

Shockingly, the school sent an email home to parents first explaining aspects of the lesson and asking the parents not to tell their children so it would be a surprise. According to the note to parents, the purpose of the lesson was to “help students understand the psychological impact of slavery on Africans brought to America. As part of this lesson, teachers took on the role of slave ship captains and would bark orders to the salve students. The students will have their hands bound with masking tape and made to lie down in a dark room in rows separated by gender. The students would then be shown a clip from the 1970s mini-series Roots as part of the lesson. The point of the lesson was to make the students feel worthless, like a piece of property.”

Needless to say, many parents were outraged and one even took to Facebook to express her frustration. Shardé Carrington forbade her son to participate in the re-enactment and spoke with administrators, who defended their decision and stated that the exercise had been going on for at least 10 years without a complaint. Perhaps one reason for this is the fact that the school is majority Asian and Hispanic. Carrington wrote the following lengthy response on Facebook:

Ok, guys, I need you to read this post and attached photos in their entirety. I’m putting my call to action up front: I’ve made this post public so you can share it, in addition to liking and comment.

I received an email from my son’s school informing parents that the children would be *duct taped together to watch Roots to learn about slavery. True story; you can and should read the email yourself. I sent an email back saying not my child, but really it shouldn’t be any child. I sent the email to the teachers, then called and spoke with the 8th-grade school counselor. I offered to forward the email to him, and he accepted. He then forwarded my email to the principal. The principal let me know it would be addressed. Things came to a screeching halt when the “Department Chair” emailed me back. He mansplained the “activity” to me, while failing to address critical points in my argument. He basically told me he thinks it’s great and will continue the “activity”.

So, back to my call to action. Weigh in. What are your thoughts on this? So far, everyone, I have consulted with shares my point of view. I’d like to open the forum for a more diverse group of people to speak their minds. Let’s all be respectful here. Thanks in advance!

ETA: Step one is complete! The school administration has informed me that the “slave exercise” will be removed from their curriculum. I was not afforded details regarding what would be adopted in its place, nor how the staff or students would undergo the work that is clearly necessary to develop their empathy and worldviews. Assurances were offered that those in charge understood the gravity of the situation. Thank you to those who came into this space to display support, provide information, share perspective, discuss concerns, and demand change. Step two is to do what we can to ensure this doesn’t happen again. We must continue to have the tough conversations, to hold people accountable, to be vigilant regarding what’s happening in our schools and communities, to check our own biases and privileges and those of people in our circles. The conversations being had here are necessary. I will leave this post public to afford a forum for them to continue. God bless. It was masking tape, not duct tape. Some feel the distinction is important, but it is of no consequence to me. My stance remains unchanged, despite the kind of tape used in the binding.

Since news of the lesson has created a public outcry, the school has ended the lesson on slavery.

Mo Barnes

"Mo Betta" Maurice "Mo" Barnes is a graduate of Morehouse College and Political Scientist based in Atlanta. Mo is also a Blues musician.

  • SrAgri

    I think the whole exercise is stupid and merely serves to traumatize children, not teach them empathy.

    “He mansplained the ‘activity’ to me, while failing to address critical points in my argument.”
    Shardé Carrington’s use of “mansplained” for any unsatisfactory interaction with a man is sexist.