What were they trying to teach these kids?
Last week at South Mountain Elementary School in East Orange, NJ, one parent was strolling the halls and noticed something that shocked him. As part of a colonial history project, one class made their own slave auction posters and wanted signs for runaway slaves, and they posted them in the hallway.
The issue here isn’t that 5th grade students are learning about the ugliness of slavery, it’s that this project was on display in hallways where students, aged 4-10 years old, were able to see it with no “context” of the lesson’s intent.
Once the photos of the student-made posters were posted by a parent to Facebook, it sparked outrage far beyond their own school district. Now the superintendent is under heavy fire for the project and a bunch of racist white dudes are being… typical racist white dudes on Facebook.
A 5th Grade History Project
Dr. John J. Ramos, Sr. is the superintendent of this New Jersey elementary school. In a statement, he claimed that the project examined “the ugly and foundational role that slavery played in Colonial America.”
For the project, students were assigned a colony and a time period. They then were asked to create posters that were relevant to that time period… including slave auction advertisements, using language like “Men: aged from 20-26, strong” and “Anne, aged 12 years, a fine house girl.”
On Display Without Context
While a few were upset about the kids learning about this period of slavery, the real issue was the lack of context for other students not taking part in the project.
Posters (such as the one above) were hanging in the hallway with no supplemental information telling what it was for.
Children at the school as young as four years old were seeing drawings of brown-skinned people depicted as slaves. In a school that is predominantly Caucasian, it was the practice of putting the drawings on display that sparked controversy. Parents were mostly concerned with how young, impressionable African-American students would feel.
Maybe instead of spending so much time making slave posters, the teacher could have taught these kids that it’s “I before E except after C” when it comes to writing “field hand.”