Virginia Teacher in Trouble for Holding Mock Slave Auction With 4th Graders


Some ideas seem far better in theory than in real life, and some ideas don’t seem very good in theory at all, and some ideas should just never happen in a classroom, for obvious reasons. Jessica Boyle, a fourth-grade teacher at Sewells Point Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia, wanted to show her students first-hand what a slave auction was like. So “She ordered black and mixed race students to one side of the classroom. Then, the white students took turns buying them.”

We’ve talked about teacher mistakes before, and frequently they have to do with Facebook. This one does not, thank goodness. Nonetheless, it’s hard not to foresee what happened next.

Via the Washington Post,

Parent complaints began rolling in shortly after the April 1 lesson, and the principal at Sewells Point Elementary School, Mary B. Wrushen, wrote to parents last week that Boyle had gone too far.

“The lesson could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation,” Wrushen wrote.

Whether or not students were actually offended, or parents were offended for students, it seems clear that mock slave auctions, even 150 years after the Civil War, should probably remain off limits in the curriculum, regardless of how important it is to give kids a little first-hand knowledge.

Norfolk public schools spokeswoman Elizabeth Thiel Mather said that “appropriate personnel action is being taken” regarding Boyle.

Va. teacher holds mock slave auction [WP via Pat’s Papers]

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 12, 2011

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