America has made slavery a taboo subject, especially when it comes to teaching it in school. What is the right way to go about teaching slavery without playing it down, but still not doing too much? It's an important part of our history, but it's not an easy subject to tackle in a small amount of time.
One California mother feels that her son's eighth-grade teacher is out of line in their attempt to teach slavery to the middle school students.
Shardé Carrington, 31, posted a Facebook message Monday to open up a dialogue about a disturbing history lesson she says was being taught to her son’s eighth-grade class.
Carrington received an email from her son's teacher on September 5 with the headline “Unique Learning Experience.” The email was sent to parents informing them of an exercise that would be happening that week. The lesson would involve the teachers acting as “slave ship captains” and students as slaves in an attempt to teach students about the horrors of slavery.
“Specifically, when class starts,” the email reads, “we will sternly tell them to line up outside the classroom, use masking tape to ‘tie’ their wrists together, make them lay on the ground inside the room (which will be dark) shoulder to shoulder with each other (boys and girls are in separate rows), and then while they lay there, have them watch a clip from ‘Roots.’”
“As the mother of a black child, I feared that my son’s participation would lead him to experience trauma, perhaps at the cellular level, and have a visceral reaction of anger and fear during the exercise itself,” Carrington explained to the Huffington Post. She knew, right away, that she would not be allowing her son to participate in the lesson. But she had questions and concerns including why this was being allowed in the first place. She quickly reached out to the administrators at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California.
The chair of the school's social studies department then reached out to her explaining that the department has been doing the slavery lesson for 10 years, with “almost universal appreciation." He also said that the exercise came from a nationally recognized supplier of curriculum, and added that while he understood Carrington’s concerns for her son, the exercise was not designed to demean students. Rather, the goal was to immerse the largely non-black student population “into the harrowing world that your ancestors suffered through so as to gain better insight into their plight.”
The exercise went on as planned, however, she made sure her son was pulled out of class to study in a guidance counselor’s office instead during that period.
Whitney High School is made up of predominantly Asian and white students, with less than one percent of students being black. Carrington believes that while the exercise is particularly offensive and potentially traumatic for black students like her son, no student, no matter their race, should be forced to participate in it.
“The teachers promised no psychological harm would be inflicted, but you cannot predict how anyone will respond to being bound in the dark and viewing traumatic images,” she said. “In a world where trigger warnings are becoming commonplace, to send an unwitting child to school to participate in a cruel activity such as this is just wrong for anyone.”
The response to this story has been mostly in support of Carrington's sentiments. However, some people think that hands-on, "show me" learning is effective. What do you all think? Was this a smart way to teach students about slavery, or should this method be banned? Let us know in the comments below.