A Mississippi school district is holding emergency meetings after an 8th-grade teacher assigned a “Slave Letter Writing Activity.” The assignment was for students to imagine that they were African slaves working on a plantation and “write a letter to your family back in Africa or in another American state describing your life.”
Parents and administrators felt that this assignment downplayed the practice of slavery or presented it in an “extremely mild view.”
At first, we thought the assignment seemed like a good idea but when you see the PowerPoint that went with it, it is extremely tone-deaf. Slaves did not “work.” They were enslaved like animals. Slaves did not have hobbies to “pass [the] time when [they] aren’t working.” It was not a life to write home about like summer camp.
The district has apologized to parents and said that the teacher’s intent was to teach empathy on behalf of the slaves, not make light of their plight. The district says that it may now make an effort to approve such assignments before they are given.
However, we do think that there is a baby here not to be thrown out with the bathwater. Empathy is an important piece of this lesson and that should not be tossed out in a cancel culture movement. We ask you, dear reader, what is a better way to get students to identify with the enslaved in a more sensitive manner?