Virginia Teacher Stages Mock Slave Auction


Fresh from our "What were you thinking?" file, Virginia teacher Jessica Boyle staged a mock slave auction with her fourth-grade class. The Washington Post reports that Boyle was attempting to bring a Civil War history lesson to life in her Norfolk classroom. She ordered black and mixed-race students to one side of the classroom. Then the white students took turns buying them.

Parents' complaints began coming in shortly after the April 1 lesson, and the principal at Sewells Point Elementary School, Mary B. Wrushen, wrote to parents last week to say that Boyle had gone too far. Students felt humiliated and uncomfortable.


Kevin Sieff reports that Wrushen wrote, "The lesson could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation."

Boyle's attempt to drive home the connection between slavery and war took place in an elementary school named for one of Virginia's earliest Civil War skirmishes, the Battle of Sewells Point, which was fought within sight of campus grounds near the mouth of Hampton Roads. Boyle taught her lesson less than two weeks before the 150th anniversary of the conflict. As is the case with these types of exercises, controversy ensued.

How ironic is it that the latest controversy took place at a school named for one of the battles of the Civil War? We're still trying to figure out why people think it's a good idea to "stage" anything related to the Civil War, let alone in a classroom. You can never communicate the atrocities of the slave trade in a "mock" slave trade.

The attempt to stage a mock slave trade is a mockery of the institution of slavery itself and the experiences of those whose lives were destroyed by it. A special memo to schoolteachers: Mock slave trades, mock slave auctions, Civil War re-enactments and any other attempt at revisionism regarding such a precarious period is unwarranted, especially in fourth-grade classrooms. 

Read more at the Washington Post.

In other news: Civil War: CNN Poll Finds War Divides Country.

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