What’s so appealing about slavery that half-baked imitations of it keep appearing in our schools? Initially, the problem came up whenever a mostly white high school or a white HBCU professor held mock slave auctions. Now, an elementary school in New Jersey is dealing with the backlash of thinking it was a good idea to have students draw slave auction posters.
The story was reported in The New York Post after parents from South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange, New Jersey saw the posters during parent-teacher conferences.
Phrasing such as “Men: aged from 20-26, strong” and “Anne, aged 12 years, a fine house girl” could be seen as the posters decorated the hallways, according to CNN.
“In a curriculum that lacks representation for students of color, it breaks my heart that these will be the images that young black and brown kids see of people with their skin color,” parent Jamil Karriem wrote Tuesday on Facebook.“It is completely lost on me how this project could be an effective way to teach any student in any age group about American history.”
South Orange-Maplewood Superintendent John Ramos defended the school project in a statement, suggesting that it was a way to introduce the ugliest aspects of slavery that are often ignored to students so that they can better understand it.
“One of the anti-bias experts highlighted the fact that schools all over our country often skip over the more painful aspects of American History, and that we need to do a better job of acknowledging the uglier parts of our past, so that children learn the full story,” Ramos said in the letter.
The posters have since been taken down and Ramos apologized to the parents who found them offensive and tasteless.
“We certainly understand and respect the strong reaction which some parents had to seeing slave auction posters included with other artwork from the assignment,” he added in a statement sent to CNN. “We are rethinking the Colonial America Project for next year, and will eliminate the example of a slave auction poster.”
Trying to teach children about slavery and the effects it’s had on society is a commendable feat. While there are many ways to do it correctly, there are even more ways to do it incorrectly.
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