Parents Outraged Over Fifth Grade Slave Auction Assignment

"In a curriculum that lacks representation for students of color, it breaks my heart that these will be the images that young black and brown kids see."

An elementary school history curriculum in South Orange, New Jersey will leave you scratching your head and wondering how in the world it managed to evade national attention for so long: A slave auction project was assigned to fifth grade students at South Mountain Elementary School for a decade, the Huffington Post reports.

The assignment required that students color a poster of an "event" that may have occurred during Colonial America. Examples included "a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction."

Uh, what?

Parents were understandably upset by the resulting pictures, which, according to ABC 7, were put on display for parent-teacher conferences.

Jamil Karriem was among the visiting parents, and he detailed the posters on Facebook, imploring the community to rally and contact the school board.

He wrote,

"While we pride ourselves on our towns [sic] culture of progression and acceptance, it has come to my attention that South Mountain Elementary School recently instructed its students to draw slave auction pictorials and then proceeded to hang said drawings throughout the hallways of the school. These images were on display for all students (ages ranging from 4-10) to see, including those that would lack any context of the underlying 'lesson' or 'purpose.' Educating young students on the harsh realities of slavery is of course not the issue here, but the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent. In a curriculum that lacks representation for students of color, it breaks my heart that these will be the images that young black and brown kids see of people with their skin color. Furthermore, it is COMPLETELY lost on me how this project could be an effective way to teach any student in any age group about American history."

Responding to the backlash, a school district representative for Superintendent John Ramos, Sr. sent The Huffington Post his statement addressing the assignment, which was apparently included in a three-part Colonial America project.

He said,

"SOMSD is committed to infus[ing] cultural competency in every aspect of our learning community. As part of this never-ending process, it is important that we reflect on the unintended effects of our curriculum, instruction, and interactions. Having reflected on the concerns shared with us, we have decided to remove the slave auction posters from South Mountain hallways, and we apologize for any unintended offense or hardship this activity has caused.”

A town meeting is in the works to discuss the issue further.

The damage, however, has already been done ... and for no less than a decade in (non-Colonial) modern America.

How do these things continue?

Banner/thumbnail credit: Flickr, Doug Kerr

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