Pssst…American school teachers.

Lemme holla at you right quick. Has there been some sort of collective agreement to always miss the mark when it comes to your Black students? Was there a vote taken to initiate an intentional push toward ignorance and insensitivity? A national mandate on “Making America Great” that necessitates the indoctrination of certain concepts, in order to roll our country back to its former financial glory? Either way, you got some ‘splainin to do, since a lot of you seem to have lost your collective, raggedy, rabid ass minds when it comes to the subject of American race-based slavery.

Recently, news outlets released the UMPTEENTH story circulating on the internet of school teachers being completely obtuse when it comes to the topic of slavery. This time, a student teacher has been fired after his “lets make a slave” assignment for 4th graders went viral.

From as early as KINDERGARTEN, teachers seem to possess a desire to inform their students about slavery—which, at face value, seems noble, important, and responsible. The scourge of race-based slavery is one that our country has yet to reckon with or atone for; awareness is vital as early as possible in order to fully grasp the issue. Children should know about American slavery in order to recognize the systems it birthed, and how the descendants of this horrible, inhumane enterprise are still affected by them daily.

The problem, however, is that a LOT of teachers don’t treat the subject properly or with the correct amount of reverence. These particular instructors, in charge of shaping young minds and perspectives for the future, appear to have a desire to normalize the horrors of slavery while idealizing the profits of slavery, all in an effort to standardize the practice of slavery with every other capitalistic enterprise America has participated in. Don’t believe me? Just watch.

Slavery Lessons Gone Wrong

There was the PE teacher asking children to pretend they are on the underground railroad to escape slavery as a measure of their physical skills and teamwork.

And a teacher who asked children to participate in a mock slave auction, where the 5th graders pretended “to put imaginary chains along our necks and wrists, and shackles on our ankles” and were bid on by their white classmates.

The Manhattan teacher assigning homework that asks: “One slave got whipped five times a day. How many times did he get whipped in a month (31 days)?” And questions about a ship filled with 3,799 slaves, asking “One day, the slaves took over the ship. 1,897 are dead. How many slaves are alive?”;

In Georgia, worksheets that read: “Each tree had 56 oranges. If eight slaves pick them equally, then how much would each slave pick?”

In Texas, children are asked to weigh the “positive” and negative aspects of slavery—yes, you read that right. Wisconsin fourth graders were challenged to give three “good” reasons and three bad reasons for slavery—yes, yes…you read that correctly as well.

Eighth graders in Tennessee are told to “create a political cartoon depicting immigrant labor in the United States” and write songs or poems to “compare and contrast the lives of plantation owners and their slave population.”

In South Carolina, children on a field trip corresponding to a lesson on the Great Depression, were told to pick cotton and sing songs with lyrics such as “I like it when you fill the sack. I like it when you don’t talk back. Make money for me.”

Lessons on the 3/5ths compromise in North Carolina, asked students how many slaves would be needed to equal at least four White people.

And when teaching elementary students about Westward Expansion in Missouri, an assignment reads: ”You own a plantation or farm and therefore need more workers. You begin to get involved in the slave trade industry and have slaves work on your farm. Your product to trade is slaves. Set your price for a slave. These could be worth a lot.” Your product. Could be.

What. The Actual. Fuck.

You know…I could wax poetic about all of this, identifying the dangers of not having teachers with the proper awareness, empathy, or sensitivity imprinting the ridiculous concept that slavery was just a “thing that happened the past” on our youth. I could type scathing takedowns of the educational system’s complicity in perpetuating the disregard our country shows toward one of its most heinous profit ventures—including examples of how Texas Textbooks were edited to refashion the Atlantic Slave Trade as “immigration” for “workers”.

I could talk about how racism, classism, and systematic oppression will never be conquered if this is what we are feeding our children from the onset of their educational careers. I could talk about how these types of assignments eat away at Black children’s self-esteem while building superiority complexes in White children. I could even talk about how these incidents, widespread and repetitive, erode the trust parents have in the school system when it comes to properly educating their children. But I’m not gonna do that today.

What I am gonna do, however, is simply ask the question: “IS YOU IGNANT?” Maybe a lapse in proper spelling and grammar will alert you to the ABSURDITY of this situation. If you are not teaching slavery within the proper context: how HUMAN BEINGS were kidnapped, sold as chattel, forced to work in horrendous conditions for no pay while making their owners and this entire country financially formidable, intentionally bred like livestock to continue the trend for 250 years, raped and murdered at the will of Whites throughout those 250 years (and beyond), and how half the nation literally went to WAR in order to continue treating Black humans this way, then YOU DON’T NEED TO TEACH ANYTHING ABOUT SLAVERY, PERIOD. 

Stop asking Black children to romanticize the barbaric treatment of their ancestors. Stop asking Black children to dehumanize their ancestors. It amazes me DAILY how white people are the most ardent champions of anthropomorphizing pets, yet cannot attribute humanity to fellow human beings that possess melanin.

Stop asking Black children to envision their ancestors as items in a math problem used to profit White people. Stop asking Black children to put themselves in the shoes of their ancestors fleeing from the unspeakable horrors of being torn apart by dogs, or hanged from their necks and burned while still breathing. Stop asking Black children to compartmentalize the repugnant hatred White people have for them and their ancestors as history. It is not history. It is ever present, it is tangible, and it is real. Stop asking Black children to be a lesson, while FREQUENTLY FAILING TO TEACH WHITE CHILDREN ONE.

This trend has to stop. Now. There are numerous resources teachers can consult to better inform themselves on how to tackle the sordid subject of race in this country. (Links to just a few are provided here, here, and here.) Maybe by doing so, they will arm themselves with a better approach to teaching about American slavery. Until then, parents and caregivers must remain diligent in calling out these preposterous assignments, and the teachers who hand them out in the name of education.

A culture critic who grew up in the East Baton Rouge Parish Public School system, Kellee is an ardent supporter of having an educated, well-rounded populace armed with facts and informed opinion. Having graduated with a BS in Biology (PreMedicine) from one of the top five HBCUs in the country, she is committed to encouraging Black youth to embrace the culture and opportunities held within the halls of HBCUs. In addition to writing and performing arts, she has also worked within school systems in the Northeast, focusing on classrooms containing at-risk youth. You can find her online at @bellekurve or


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