Ohio Elementary School Hosts Classroom “Slave Auction”

by Joanna 

Once again, a school is in trouble for hosting a totally inappropriate simulated experience in a classroom. A few months ago, it was high school students roaming the hallways dressed as KKK members, now it is an elementary school re-enactment of a slave auction. Seriously, what was this teacher thinking? How on Earth does designating half of the children in an elementary school class as “slaves” and the other half as “masters” teach anything but bad behavior? Has this teacher never heard of the Stanford Prison Experiment?

This classroom exercise would do absolutely nothing to educate children as to the horrors of slavery. All it would succeed in doing is giving the children “a break” from the normal day to day grind of classwork, and allow them to play act roles of which that they are not mature enough to understand the significance.  In this case, the mother of a Black child complained about her son being made to play the role of a “slave”, and an apology was issued. But, I am still trying to imagine in what context any teacher would consider this an appropriate exercise.
GAHANNA, Ohio — A central Ohio school district was apologizing on Thursday after an elementary school Social Studies lesson turned into a mock slave auction. Nikko Burton said during an American history lesson at Gahanna’s Chapelfield Elementary School, the class was divided into slaves and masters, 10 Investigates’ Paul Aker reported. “I ended up being a slave,” said Burton, 10. “At first I didn’t care, but after people were bidding on people it kind of made me a little mad and stuff.” Burton said that the students who were playing the part of master were told to feel the students playing slaves to see if they were worth buying. “The masters go to touch people and do all sorts of stuff,” Burton said. “They got to look in your mouth and feel your legs and stuff and see if you’re strong and stuff.” Burton’s mother said that her son was humiliated. She complained to Gahanna-Jefferson schools. School officials declined to comment but did issue a statement that said, in part, “As soon as the concern was brought to our attention, school officials acted promptly to speak with the parent.” “He felt degraded, he was hurt and the kids picked on him later,” Aneka Burton said. “I feel like that was totally inappropriate; it was racist and it was degrading.” A district spokeswoman said the slave auction was part of state required curriculum and that it was a one-time lesson. “I don’t know how long it’s been going on, but I am just shocked nobody has ever complained about it,” Aneka Burton said. While 10 Investigates was at the Burton’s house, Nikko’s principal called to apologize. While the family said the apology is nice, Nikko said he is still waiting for one from his teacher.

“It was kind of mean and she should have said sorry,” he said. SOURCE
Now, does anyone else hear a story like this and wonder why it is only brought to anyone’s attention when a Black student is there to witness it and be offended? Reducing a slave auction to a classroom diversion is wrong in any context, whether all of the students playing “slaves” and “masters” are all white, whether they are all Black, or whether there is a combination of the two. Yet teachers are not called to the carpet for hosting such activities unless a Black student is directly impacted. There is a sense that this sort of thing is acceptable, unless there are some “overly sensitive” Black people around to get offended and “pull the race card”. That is a serious problem to me!

I do not know about anyone else, but if I had a little niece or nephew who was white and came home and told me about this classroom activity, I would find it just as egregious an offense as if a Black child told me about it. The concentration should be on the impact of the activity on all students, not just those who happen to be Black. A role playing exercise like this one will negatively affect all kids, because it will teach white children that slavery is something to be trivialized. It will subtly tell children that slavery was not so serious, that a slave auction is just another fun historical activity to be recreated as a break from studying. It will reinforce the racist brainwashing that children are subject to every day.

Of course, a Black student will bear the brunt of the negative impact of this activity, since he will be made to feel that the struggles of his people mean nothing in the grand scheme of things, that racism is a thing of the past that we can now use as a classroom diversion. But this type of activity is not the sort that we need to encourage in any way, shape or form with any children.

Imagine, if you will, that a child who participated in this classroom activity and found it enjoyable decided to “play” the “slave auction” game with his friends at home? How quickly do you think the activity would devolve into a child’s version of the Stanford Prison experiment? In fact, I have no doubt that some of the children who participated in the classroom activity were relishing their roles as “masters” and mistreating the children who were designated as “slaves”. And somehow, a teacher, who should have known better, found this a perfectly acceptable thing. I just do not understand the mindset. I don’t think I ever will!