Black Student Humiliated in Slavery Lesson Gone Wrong

Julie Ryan Evans

slaveryA history lesson at Chapelfield Elementary School in Ohio went terribly wrong when a black student was made to play a slave during a mock slave auction. Nikko Burton, 10, says he was "humiliated" by the experience, and it's easy to see why.

The class was divided into two groups -- masters and slaves. Burton was selected as a slave. The "masters" then proceeded to examine the slaves -- looking in their mouths and checking their legs to see if they were strong and "worth buying." He told WBNS-10TV:

I ended up being a slave. At first I didn't care, but after people were bidding on people, it kind of made me a little mad.

The school did apologize afterward, but Burton's mother is still angry about the experience. Aneka Burton told the station:

He felt degraded, he was hurt, and the kids picked on him later. I feel like that was totally inappropriate -- it was racist and it was degrading. I don't know how long it's been going on, but I am just shocked nobody has ever complained about it. 

While I agree it was wrong and full of inappropriate touching regardless of roles, I don't think it was racist. The other black student in the class was put in the role of a master (thankfully, or this would be a much bigger problem), and frankly, it's something that did happen in our nation -- as shameful as it is. Rather I think this is a case of insensitivity, that the school and teacher didn't understand how painful the experience could be for some children.

When it comes to education, creativity in lesson plans is often the way to get material to stick with children, so I hate to see that punished when a teacher goes beyond the textbook. This, however, seems to have gone too far beyond what 10-year-olds could handle when it comes to such a deeply emotional, turbulent issue. Mostly, it seems like a well-intentioned lesson gone wrong. As a spokesperson for the school told the New York Daily News:

The intent of the lesson was to provide students with multiple tools to learn about slavery in American history.  It was intended to provide students with empathy, compassion, and understanding, and was never intended to offend or upset anyone. Regardless of the intent, the effect was that some were offended and hurt by the lesson plan, and for that the school district is deeply sorry.

So hopefully the lesson will be learned and everyone can move on with more awareness and sensitivity -- things of which we can all use more of when it comes to racial issues. While it seems we've come a long way, every day there's evidence we have much further to go.

Do you think a class holding a mock slave auction is outrageous? Do you think to do so is racist or just insensitive?


Image via dbking/Flickr

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