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No you definitely don’t need to pretend to be a slave but it was another hands on experiment used to simulate slavery. Definitely not an effective way and there’s better alternatives than that.” – Eighth-grade student Kaleem Syed.

Students at Whitney High School were enslaved for a day.

Administrators at the California high school made a terrible decision while trying to teach students about the horrors of slavery: They tied the wrists of eighth-grade students with duct tape, they stuck them in a dark room, told them to lie on the floor shoulder-to-shoulder to simulate the inhumane conditions aboard a slave ship – and then showed them a clip of “Roots.”

[Teachers from Whitley High School in Cerritos, California suggested role-playing earlier this month: Students would be enslaved Africans and teachers would be slave ship captains.


Parents were outraged – and for good reason. What were these teachers thinking? Aren’t their better ways to teach students about slavery? Pretending to enslave African-American students — and other kids of teenagers of color — is seriously misguided, racially insensitive and just plain ignorant.

Instead of teaching students about slavery, teachers succeeded in causing anxiety and stress for students and parents – and then ultimately pulled the lesson plan form the school curriculum. It should have never been implemented in the first place.

One African-American parent, Shardé Carrington, told The Huffington Post that she received an email from Whitney High School administrators about a “unique learning experience.”

Carrington posted the email from the school on Facebook.

“Specifically, when class starts, we will sternly tell them to line up outside the classroom, use masking tape to ‘tie’ their wrists together, make them lay on the ground inside the room (which will be dark) shoulder to shoulder with each other (boys and girls are in separate rows), and then while they lay there, have them watch a clip from ‘Roots.’”

“As the mother of a Black child, I feared that my son’s participation would lead him to experience trauma, perhaps at the cellular level, and have a visceral reaction of anger and fear during the exercise itself,” Carrington to The Huffington Post.

I’m glad Carrington spoke out. She called the ridiculous lesson “irresponsible at best, manipulative and dangerous at worst.” She also sent an email to the school expressing her outrage.

Carrington didn’t allow her child to participate in the lesson. I agree with Carrington, I wouldn’t allow my daughter to participate either.

“Would you simulate rape in order to encourage sensitivity toward survivors? Will children pretend to be in Japanese internment camps as well?” Carrington asked.

Great questions. Carrington called the teachings “demeaning and grossly insensitive.”

I remain confused by the school’s response because Derek Jeans, the chair of Whitney’s social studies department, defended the school’s ill-advised exercise.

“I, as department chair of our social studies department, brought this exercise to Whitney about 10 years ago, and have had almost universal appreciation for it in the way that we do not minimize the experience of slavery, but rather attempt in a very small manor [sic], to bring a more personal understanding of such a tragic and terrible event that occurred in our history, Jeans said.

But LaMonica Bryson, a Whitney High English teacher, agreed with the decision to pull the lesson from the school.

“I think there are other ways to teach tolerance and maybe even better ways and best practices to broach these sensitive topics,” Bryson told reporters.

Meanwhile, Carrington was perplexed and frustrated.

And I get it.

“The teachers promised no psychological harm would be inflicted, but you cannot predict how anyone will respond to being bound in the dark and viewing traumatic images,” Carrington told the HuffPost. “In a world where trigger warnings are becoming commonplace, to send an unwitting child to school to participate in a cruel activity such as this is just wrong for anyone.”

Which begs the question: Are these teachers racially insensitive or just generally clueless?

What do you think?

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Slave For A Day: How One Teacher’s Lesson Went Very Wrong  was originally published on blackamericaweb.com