Mock Slave Auctions: How Not to Teach Kids About America's History

When it come to educating kids about slavery, teachers should think twice about the appropriateness of their hands on learning activities.

When it comes to educating kids about the Civil War and slavery, teachers might want to think twice about the appropriateness of their experiential learning activities. According to the Washington Post, Jessica Boyle, a fourth grade teacher at Sewells Point Elementary School in Norfolk chose to teach a lesson on the Civil War by turning her classroom into a slave auction. Boyle segregated her students—black and mixed race students on one side of the room, and white students on the other. The teacher then had the white students, all around ten years old, play the role of slave master and take turns purchasing their black and biracial peers.

The incident came to light after parents, understandably, complained. The school's principal, Mary B. Wrushen, sent a letter home stating that although Boyle's "actions were well intended to meet the instructional objectives, the activity presented was inappropriate for the students." Wrushen said the lesson was not supported by the school or district and acknowledged that it "could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation."

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