A South Orange, NJ elementary school, South Mountain Elementary, has added to the tense race relations of the country with a questionable assignment for fifth graders. Students were asked to research and create a colorful slave auction poster, indicative of the times, as a part of a larger Colonial America unit that has been used in their curriculum for ten years.
One poster listed the names of available slaves, among those a twelve-year-old young girl named Anne, who was described as “a fine housegirl.” An additional poster stated that, “All slaves raised on the plantation of John Carter,” and said that only cash is accepted.
Jamil Karriem and many other parents took to social media, expressing outrage over the assignment and sharing photos of the posters as well. “Educating young students on the harsh reality of slavery is of course not the issue here, but the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent,” comments Karriem in a FaceBook post. “In a curriculum that lacks representation for students of color, it breaks my heart that these will be the images that young black and brown kids see of people with their skin color. Furthermore, it is COMPLETELY lost on me how this project could be an effective way to teach any student in any age group about American history.”
The school district is planning a community meeting to discuss the assignment and Superintendent John Ramos issued a statement saying, “[South Orange Maplewood School District] is committed to infus[ing] cultural competency in every aspect of our learning. As part of this never-ending process, it is important that we reflect on the unintended part of our curriculum, instruction and interactions. Having reflected on the concerns shared with us, we have decided to remove the slave-auction posters from South Mountain hallways, and we apologize for any unintended offense or hardship this activity has caused.”
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