An American Primary School Is Under Fire For 'Slave Auction' Assignment

Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images.
A primary school in New Jersey may have missed the mark while trying to teach young students about slavery in Colonial America.
10-year-olds at the South Mountain Elementary School were asked to create posters advertising a slave auction as part of a class assignment, CNN reports. The artwork depicted pictures of brown-skinned men and women accompanied by such text as: "Men: aged from 20-26, strong" and "Anne, aged 12 years, a fine house girl."
But the assignment went even further when the posters were displayed on walls around the school. This, predictably, caused some controversy among local residents. Jamil Karriem shared some pictures of the posters in a Facebook post and explained why he found the assignment so problematic.
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"These images were on display for all students (ages ranging from 4-10) to see, including those that would lack any context of the underlying 'lesson' or 'purpose.' Educating young students on the harsh realities of slavery is of course not the issue here, but the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent," Karriem wrote in the post. "In a curriculum that lacks representation for students of colour, it breaks my heart that these will be the images that young black and brown kids see of people with their skin colour."
The school district ultimately apologised for the assignment, saying they'll rethink their approach next year.
"While it was not our intention, we recognise that the example of a slave auction poster, although historically relevant, was culturally insensitive," Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr., the South Orange-Maplewood School District superintendent, told CNN.
He added, "We certainly understand and respect the strong reaction which some parents had to seeing slave auction posters included with other artwork from the assignment. We are rethinking the Colonial America Project for next year, and will eliminate the example of a slave auction poster."
While it's important to teach kids about the history of slavery in the U.S. — and how its legacy is still felt today — this assignment could have be done better. Kudos to the parents for speaking up, and to the school for acknowledging their mistake.
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