It seems one New Jersey school district does not know how to sensitively teach American history to its young students.
First, there was the slave auction poster assignment at South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange, New Jersey. Now, reports of an actual mock slave auction at a South Orange Maplewood school are circulating the internet.
Why can't this district get it right?
The event occurred at Jefferson School while a fifth-grade teacher was on medical leave at South Orange Maplewood School, and a substitute teacher supervised the assignment, ABC7 reports.
"There was a slave auction and the little girl was put on the block — in 2017, she was put on the block for sale by her classmates and sold and it was recorded," parent Tracey Jarmon-Woods said to ABC7. "When we're dealing with the holocaust we would never put Jewish kids in two lines and say you go to the left, you go to the right as an assignment."
Jarmon-Woods was also interviewed by CBS New York.
"There was a sale of a black child by white children in the classroom,” she said. "If you're demoralized — sold on a block in 2017 — it may affect you the rest of your life."
A district spokeswoman reportedly told ABC7 that the activity was initiated by students, which, come on, is a ridiculous accusation to aim at fifth-graders who were being supervised by a trained adult.
The school released a letter addressing the situation:
"When we had the opportunity to view the full video last week, we were concerned to see how lightly students treated the topic. The jovial nature of the video suggests that either there is a lack of understanding about the true barbarity of a slave auction, or a lack of awareness of how treating this topic comically is offensive.
We believe that additional work remains to help our students consider how their actions can have a negative impact on others, even if unintended, how joking about slavery is disrespectful to all Americans, especially to the African American community, and that certain matters should be treated with a degree of heightened sensitivity.
We thank you for your support and appreciate all of the feedback that we have received. It has led us to develop a plan that that we feel confident will turn this unfortunate event into an opportunity for our students to learn and grow. It is important to note that although we want students to reflect upon and own the roles that they have played, this process will not allow for any students to be targeted or shamed in any way. We ask you to speak with your children about their feelings regarding the video, how our choices can impact others, and ways that they can help to foster a sense of respect and belonging for all members of our learning community."
There are so many questions to be raised about the horrifying incident, but the overarching inquiry is uncomplicated. When will the ignorance in our education system end?
Banner/thumbnail credit: Flickr, MIKI Yoshihito