School Under Fire for Planning to Tie Kids' Wrists in 'Mock Slavery' Activity

empty classroom
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Education is the cornerstone of progress. In order for us to move forward, we have to be fully cognizant of the past. Finding creative new ways to tackle old lessons typically sounds like a great idea. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case for a high school under fire for a disturbing "mock slavery" simulation. Whitney High School in Cerritos, California, has been called out by a mom who shared a disturbing lesson plan she received for her son's history class.

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Mom Shardé Carrington shared an email on Facebook that she received from her son's history teacher with the subject line "A unique Classroom Activity." 

"In order to help students understand the psychological impact of slavery on Africans brought to this country, all of us do a simulation activity in our classes that tries to recreate the voyage that slaves went on Across the Atlantic Ocean, on their way to the new world. We will be acting as slave ship captains and your son/daughter will be pretending to be a slave."

The email explained that during the simulation, teachers would "sternly" tell students to line up outside the classroom, then proceed to tie their wrists together with masking tape and make them lie down on the floor in a dark classroom. After the children are placed in rows -- shoulder to shoulder -- on the ground, they would then be forced to watch a clip from the film Roots.

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Sharde Carrington/Facebook

"The idea is for them to be uncomfortable and to feel mistreated, like a piece of property. However rest assured that your child will not be physically or emotionally hurt/harmed in any way."

At the end of the email, teachers also requested that parents not tell their children about the simulation, as "the activity is much more powerful when it comes as a surprise that they were not prepared for."

Carrington -- who, along with her son, is African-American -- told the Huffington Post that she was forced to cycle through a wide range of emotions after receiving the email, dealing with the initial shock, followed by denial, then finally landing at being rightfully angry. Carrington also had fundamental disagreements with the assertion that the student participants would escape the simulation without being "physically or emotionally hurt/harmed."

She told the Huffington Post, "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." 

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After Carrington communicated with both a school counselor and the principal, the social studies head chair reached out to the mom. In his email, he told Carrington the exercise was not designed to be demeaning and mentioned it was from a "nationally recognized supplier of curriculum." He also said that in the 10 years the school had been doing the simulation they'd had "almost universal appreciation for it."

Teaching students about the realities of something as difficult as the trans-Atlantic slave trade is certainly important. But with the effects of it still so prevalent in today's society, tying children -- especially children of color -- up in dark rooms and forcing them to attempt to physically relive the horrors of the past is a bad idea, to say the least. 

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