High school in hot water over slavery re-enactment project

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Students at Whitney High School in Cerritos, California, were tied up and told to lay on the floor, while their teachers pretended to be “slave ship captains.”

Now, parents are fired up and demanding answers over an 8th-grade history project about slavery that was supposed to be a surprise to students.

One mother, speaking out about the project, said she received an email from her son’s teacher, notifying parents in advance of the planned slave ship re-enactment project. The email said it was a project to help students understand the psychological impact of slavery on Africans brought over to this country, and that they would try to “recreate” the voyage that slaves took across the Atlantic Ocean.

The email further explained:

“We will be acting as slave ship captains and your son/daughter will be pretending to be a slave. Specifically, when class starts, we will sternly tell them to line up outside the room, use masking tape to “tie” their wrists together, make them lay on the ground inside the room (which will be dark) shoulder to shoulder with each other (boys and girls in separate rows) and then while they lay there, have them watch a clip from the film “Roots.””

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

The school said if parents are uncomfortable with the plan, they could contact their child’s teacher.

The mother, Shardé Carrington, who is black and greatly opposed to the project, first posted the email she received on her Facebook page last week, then reached out to Huffington Post to report the matter.

In a letter back to the school, Carrington said, “While sadly Black students are severely underrepresented at Whitney, they in particular are vulnerable to deep emotional reactions to reenacting the trauma cruelty inflicted upon their ancestors. we live with the daily realities of being Black in America, and having our very existence challenged, hated and vilified.”

The slavery re-enactment project has been a part of the school’s curriculum for the past ten years, or so, but it has now been canceled after Carrington’s complaint.

One student, Timothy Reyes, who is now a junior, said he went through the project when he was in the 8th grade, but said their hands were not taped very tightly.

“No, you definitely don’t need to pretend to be a slave but it was another hands-on experiment used to simulate slavery,” said another student, Kaleem Syed. “Definitely not an effective way and there’s better alternatives [to] that.”

LaMonica Bryson, an English teacher at the school, agreed it was right to cancel the project. “I think there are other ways to teach tolerance and maybe even better ways and best practices to broach these sensitive topics,” said Bryson.

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