Sometimes there are times when I just wonder what people were thinking. A student at Chapfield Elementary School in Ohio was humiliated when his teacher decided to divide the class into “slaves” and “masters” in a mock slave auction. There were two African-American students in the class; one was a “master” and the other, 10-year-old Nikko Burton, was a “slave.”
Nikko’s mother, Aneka Burton, says that he “felt degraded” by the experience, and understandably so. “At first, I didn’t care,” he said. “But after people were bidding on people, it kind of made me a little mad and stuff.” According to an article by Paul Aker in the Columbus Dispatch, he felt even more frustrated and angry when the students playing “masters” were instructed to feel the “slaves’” muscles. The exercise quickly morphed from misguided to horrible when, Ms. Burton explained, “They looked in their mouth to see who had stronger teeth. And whoever was the strongest that’s who they sold first.”
When Nikko complained about being “sold,” he was told to return to his desk.
According to a spokesperson for the school district, the activity was intended to teach students about cultural diversity and U.S. history, and administrators apologized to Nikko and his mother. The teacher, however, has yet to apologize, and Ms. Burton is absolutely right when she says that this raises troubling questions about the teacher’s ability to understand the history lesson that he or she was imparting to the children.
“They should research – they should be educated about black history,” she said. “That was inappropriate.”
It’s understandably difficult to make 5th-graders understand just what slavery meant, and elementary school teachers often use interactive activities to make history “come alive.” But reenacting slave auctions, one of the most odious moments in our country’s history using schoolchildren has got to be one of the most disturbing instances of classroom creativity yet. This teacher needs to apologize, pronto, and all schools need to make sure that such incidents aren’t repeated.
Photo from Flickr.