A Missouri schoolteacher has “significant remorse” over a social studies lesson asking students what they would charge for slaves, according to the principal at the suburban St. Louis school.
In a letter to parents, Blades Elementary School Principal Jeremy Booker said the “culturally insensitive” assignment was part of a fifth grade lesson about market prices in colonial America.
“Some students who participated in this assignment were prompted to consider how plantation owners traded for goods and slaves,” Booker explained in the Monday memo.
The principal said it was outraged parents that alerted him to the assignment, which read: “Set your price for a slave. These could be worth a lot!”
The rest of the assignment, which was posted online, focused on trading other commodities like grains, lumber, fish and turpentine, local station FOX 2 Now reported. It also featured a section asking students to reflect and give their thoughts on a free market economy.
The lesson came as a shock to many in the Mehlville school community who agreed the content was offensive and crass. John Bowman, president of the St. Louis County chapter of the NAACP, is demanding a public apology from the teacher and district superintendent.
“There also needs to be some serious and immediate implicit bias, cultural bias, cultural difference training,” Bowman said, adding: “I wouldn’t have this problem in Jennings or Normandy School Districts. They’re automatically aware of the sensitive nature of a topic like this.” Publicly available figures indicate Mehlville’s Population is less than 5 percent African-American.
Amid the furor, Booker said he met with the accused teacher who expressed “significant remorse” over the incident. The matter is now under review by the district. Meanwhile, Booker is planning cultural bias training for Blades faculty and staff, according to his letter.
A district spokeswoman confirmed the teacher in question has been placed on leave pending an investigation,
A similar controversy unfolded in South Carolina school early this year when a group of elementary-age students were made to pick cotton and sing “slave songs” during a class field trip to a learning center about Depression-era African-American history. Cellphone video sent to parents showed fifth-graders from Ebenezer Avenue Elementary in Rock Hill, South Carolina, bent over picking cotton while singing a song with the lyrics, “I like it when you fill the sack. I like it when you don’t talk back … Make money for me.”
Outraged mother Jessica Blanchard accused teachers then of making a “mockery” of the horrors of slavery, although a Black instructor at the center stressed that the lesson was about Black life in the rural South during the Great Depression, an era that began some 65 years after slavery ended in America.
“A mockery of what our people went through,” she told local media.
Mehlville parents feel the same and have stressed the need for cultural sensitivity.
“We are working together to ensure all students and families feel valued and respected at Blades Elementary,” Booker concluded his letter.