The Wake County school system has pulled from its curriculum an assignment asking middle school students to imagine what it would be like to be a slave, after complaints from a Knightdale parent.
The social studies assignment given at East Wake Middle School asked the eighth-grade students to come up with a slave name and write about what their life would be like, how their master treated them and what their specific tasks would be. Ariel Melvin-Hall charged that the assignment, called “I Am A Slave,” was racially insensitive, with her complaints causing the the school system to remove it from the social studies curriculum.
“We felt like the parent’s concern was legitimate,” said Cathy Moore, Wake’s deputy superintendent for school performance, on Monday.
Melvin-Hall said her daughter’s social studies class got the assignment on Jan. 24 following their discussion of the Civil War. Melvin-Hall, who mentioned during an interview that she is African-American, said she was shocked to hear the directions and the title for the essay.
“I really felt like it was a slap in the face,” she said. “It was an insult. It could have been worded better. It was inappropriate.”
Instead of the “I Am a Slave” assignment, Melvin-Hall said, it would have been more appropriate for the teacher to have given an essay asking for comment on what they had learned in class about slavery.
Melvin-Hall’s daughter wrote that she was a male slave named Toby who picked cotton and whose master whipped him and raped the slave’s wife at night.
Melvin-Hall said she went to the school Jan. 27 to talk with the teacher and the principal. The students were supposed to discuss their essays in class that day.
Melvin-Hall said that the school initially defended the assignment before agreeing that it might not have been the wisest thing to do. The teacher said she got the essay from Wake’s curriculum website, which offers lesson plans and suggested assignments, according to Melvin-Hall.
“It’s troubling that someone thought in the first place it was OK to give this assignment,” she said.
Moore said the school immediately gave an alternative assignment and contacted the district office, where officials pulled it for review. She said they will decide whether the assignment should be revised or pulled permanently.
Moore said assignments sometimes require review and that the outcome was a good one.
“The process, via good communication between home and school, worked beautifully,” she said.
Melvin-Hall said she’s happy that the essay is out of the curriculum for now and hopefully something that her three younger children won’t have to face.
“I’m glad that it was taken away, that someone listened,” she said.