I, as department chair of our social studies department, brought this exercise to Whitney about 10 years ago, and have had almost universal appreciation for it in the way that we do not minimize the experience of slavery, but rather attempt in a very small manor [sic], to bring a more personal understanding of such a tragic and terrible event that occurred in our history.

But it’s worth asking whom this “more personal understanding” is for. It’s worth noting that Whitney High School, which is located in Cerritos, has a predominantly Asian and white student body. According to HuffPost, a grand total of 19 students out of 1,011 are black.

Jeans also noted that the exercise was “from a nationally recognized supplier of curriculum designed to bring experiences into the classroom versus just discussions.” The teacher added that the school did not add it to their course of study “lightly.”

Other schools have stirred controversy for handling slavery in insensitive ways. Earlier this year, an elementary school in New Jersey was blasted for holding a mock slave auction and hanging “slave posters” in the hallways.

While immersive experiences are certainly valuable in the classroom, not every topic or historical event is suitable for such lessons. Teaching Tolerance, an offshoot of the Southern Poverty Law Center that provides educational resources to instructors to promote inclusion, explicitly warns educators NOT to use role-playing when teaching students about slavery.

In a 2014 article, Teaching Tolerance issued the following guidelines:


Instead, educators are advised to use primary sources and oral histories, assign readings that depict enslaved people as whole individuals, organize field trips to historic sites that “reflect the lives of black people beyond slavery” and underscore the contributions America’s enslaved made to many facets of American society.

After 10 years, it’s a good time for Whitney to heed this advice.

Read more at HuffPost.