A New Jersey schools superintendent has apologized for a “culturally insensitive” fifth-grade class assignment that required students to create slave auction ads.
The superintendent of the South Orange-Maplewood School District said the student-made posters advertising a mock slave auction were part of a lesson to “examine what life was really like” in colonial America, CNN reported.
The posters, which were hung on the walls at South Mountain Elementary School, have since been removed, Superintendent John J. Ramos Sr. said.
“While it was not our intention, we recognize that the example of a slave auction poster, although historically relevant, was culturally insensitive,” he said in a statement, CNN reported. “We certainly understand and respect the strong reaction which some parents had to seeing slave auction posters included with other artwork from the assignment.”
“The principal and I have both apologized for any unintended offense caused, and we have removed the posters from display,” he said. “We are rethinking the Colonial America Project for next year, and will eliminate the example of a slave auction poster.”
As part of the assignment, students also created wanted posters for runaway slaves, CNN reported.
“WANTED: Mary Brown,” reads one poster, featuring a hand-drawn mugshot of a black women. “Crime: Stole food and money.”
A slave auction poster read: “Anne, aged 12 years, a fine house girl; Edwin, aged 24 years, a great hunter; Jane, aged 32 years, a superior nurse; Sam, aged 18 years, a feild [sic] hand; Jordan, aged 22 years, a great cook.”
Photos of the posters were circulated on social media by South Mountain parent Jamil Karriem, who urged other parents to complain to the district, CNN reported.
“These images were on display for all students (ages ranging from 4-10) to see, including those that would lack any context of the underlying ‘lesson’ or ‘purpose,’” Ms. Karriem wrote last week in a Facebook post. “Educating young students on the harsh realities of slavery is of course not the issue here, but the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent. In a curriculum that lacks representation for students of color, it breaks my heart that these will be the images that young black and brown kids see of people with their skin color.”
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