You know, there’s a way to teach slavery to people, especially children, without involving fun, hand-drawn posters and role-playing in mock slave auctions. However, it seems as if a New Jersey school still hasn’t gotten the memo, and now it’s facing backlash from parents after a mock slave auction apparently took place in a fifth-grade classroom at Jefferson Elementary School in Maplewood.
“There was a sale of a black child by white children in the classroom,” Tracey Jarmon-Woods, a parent whose son goes to Jefferson, told CBS New York. “If you’re demoralized—sold on a block in 2017—it may affect you the rest of your life.”
NJ.com reports that, according to a note sent home to parents about the incident, the teacher of the class was out after dental surgery. A substitute teacher was in charge when students “used creative license” to present a project on the Triangular Slave Trade, which is a topic in the class’s colonization unit. The students then put on a mock slave auction, asked classmates to join in and filmed the project.
“While I understand the creative effort, and the impact it had upon the students who viewed this, I used it as a teachable moment to elaborate on the gravity of this part of our history,” the regular teacher, who saw the video after returning to school, wrote in the letter to parents. “I was concerned about the students who viewed and participated in this re-enactment and would like to convey this event to you so we can address the students’ perceptions as a whole.”
CBS New York notes that the topic was discussed during after-school pickup outside the school earlier in the month and then later at a Board of Education meeting.
“I’m disgusted, really disgusted a child was bought. That doesn’t make any sense,” one parent said at the meeting.
A spokesperson for the school district, Suzanne Turner, condemned the lesson, saying that administrators will look into “training and improved supervisory protocols” for substitute teachers in light of the incident.
“The activity was not part of the curriculum, not part of the teacher’s assignment, not condoned by the teacher, not authorized by the district,” Turner said. “Upon hearing about the impromptu re-enactment and video while she was out, the teacher proactively reached out to parents to inform them not only of what had happened, but also how she was addressing this with students.”
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that an elementary school in the district has had to deal with fallout over its curriculum and the way slavery is taught.
Earlier this month, the South Mountain Elementary School came under fire for asking fifth-grade students to draw “examples of an event that would occur during [your] assigned colonial time period, including a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction.”
Parents were upset by posters seen hanging in the school’s hallway, depicting “Wanted” posters for fictional slaves, as well as advertisement that included descriptions like “Anne, aged 12 years a fine house girl” and “Jordan, aged 22 years a great cook.”