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.
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.