Fifth-Grade Student Asked to Portray a Slave for Class Assignment

Illustration for article titled Fifth-Grade Student Asked to Portray a Slave for Class Assignment
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It’s starting to feel like schools really need to examine how they teach slavery because damn, y’all. This is the second story of this nature to break within just the last month.

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NBC News reports that a black fifth-grader was asked to portray a slave during a lesson on the Civil War and Reconstruction at Lafayette Elementary school in D.C. Another black student was asked to pretend they were drinking from a segregated water fountain during the same lesson. In a letter sent to parents, the school explained that the assignment involved the children being split into groups and tasked with creating a podcast or doing a dramatic reading. It was at this point that some of the students’ fellow classmates asked them “to play roles that are inappropriate and harmful,” according to the letter. Carrie Broquard, principal of the school, said that they plan to form a Diversity and Inclusion Committee as well having that age-old “diversity training” that pops up any time a story like this gets out.

There is no more awkward time to be a black student than during black history month and the Civil War lessons. Everyone looks at you like you were right there marching along Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Some kid is always like, “What’s it like knowing your ancestors were slaves?” and you’re just like, “Dude, I’m just trying to watch Our Friend Martin.” It’s unsurprising that this assignment went off the rails and I’m curious why they thought it was a good idea to let the students take control on this one. Children are not widely known for their nuance and sensitivity in dealing with complicated issues. Telling a group of 10-year-olds to do a creative assignment based on America’s original sin is, uh, a choice, to say the least.

I hope that other schools are paying attention to these stories and consider taking another look at their Civil War lesson plans. Black students aren’t there to be props in your slave narratives.

The stylin', profilin', limousine riding, jet flying, wheelin' and dealin' nerd of The Root.

DISCUSSION

ihatebras
ihatebras

It is important that people understand these things are not just bad or terrible, they are also a violation of federal civil rights laws. This is a Title VI violation and it is critical that parents and community activists file Office for Civil Rights complaints at the Department of Education. This documents the violation and it becomes public record.

Public schools receive federal funding and are held under a mandate for Title VI. There is not enough “diversity training” in the world to put a stop to these incidents that happen over and over again. There needs to be systematic accountability and corrective actions in place that cost districts money. They will not change until they get tired of paying for their corrective actions. Districts will never put a stop to this because it is the right thing to do, they will only do it because they are tired of being called out and paying for being called out.
-File OCR complaints and be specific in what corrective actions you want to see implemented when you submit your complaint.
-File state Department of Education complaints and specific about the corrective actions in that complaint as well.
-Go to your school board meetings and hold trustees and superintendents accountable.
-Make sure that your district has a hate speech and hate behavior policy (this is different from a bullying policy which they will try and say is the same thing - it’s not!)
-Demand that your district have a Title VI coordinator who is responsible for the enforcement of Title VI.
-Demand that your district is actively recruiting and hiring teachers and administrators that reflect the cultural and racial demographics of your school community.
Last of all: ORGANIZE! The kids needs the adults to do this. They are looking to us to make these changes for them.
You can learn more about Title VI in public education at SaveyourVi.org