Parent files lawsuit over slavery reenactment on school field trip

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African-American middle school students were forced to act as slaves, pretending to be sold at auction and standing in the darkness of a would-be slave ship, all while enduring racial epithets, a human rights lawsuit filed by a student’s mother claims.

Sandra Baker told the Hartford Courant this week that her  daughter, who is black, said she and other students in her  seventh grade class were “terrorized” during a field trip  to Nature’s Classroom in Charlton, Massachusetts. Parents of the  students, who traveled from Hartford Magnet Trinity College  Academy 45 minutes away, were not told their children would be  participating in a slavery reenactment when giving permission for  the trip.   

The girl told her mother that on the four-day trip in November  2012, the class was forced to pretend to pick cotton, simulate  the quiet confinement of riding on a slave ship, and reeenact the  Underground Railroad – the network that slaves used to travel  north and reach freedom before the American Civil War in 1861.

“I said, ‘How was your trip?’” Barker said. “She  started telling me what happened. I was like, ‘What?’ I was  stunned…We crossed all our T’s and dotted all our I’s. This, I  didn’t see coming.”    White instructors, who assumed the roles of slave owners and  oppressors, told the students that while on board the “ship,”  they would have no choice but to go to the bathroom on each other  and would be thrown overboard if they were sick.  “I went into a dark room where I had to sit on my bottom with my  knees together,” the girl wrote in a statement read by her  father this week in front of the Hartford school board. “My  legs fell asleep and were hurting.”

She went on to describe how the students were told they would be  whipped if they attempted to escape, some even forced to dance  for their “masters.”

“I had to hold my head down and could not make eye contact  with the white masters,” the 12-year-old stated. “I heard  the instructor ask kids behind me to open their mouths so their  teeth could be checked. Some were asked to jump up and down.”

Jon Santos, the director of Nature’s Classroom, told The  Washington Post that the three-hour exercise was meant to teach  students empathy for what slaves were put through, along with  lessons about modern day bullying. He denied that racial slurs  were part of the curriculum, saying that any employee who uttered  such a remark would be fired. The program has been in place for  18 years, he said.

“This is a reenactment of a historical event that has  relevance to their day-to-day interaction with their peers and  classroom teacher,” Santos said. “How do you feel when  this is put upon you? How do you think you should feel when it is  put upon someone else?”

A social worker and mediation specialist working for Hartford  Magnet Trinity College Academy spoke with students earlier this  year after they were put through the slavery simulation. An April  report seen by the Hartford Courant noted that while some of the  students said they have a newfound “appreciation for what we  have today,” others were clearly upset.

One student wrote that he “started to believe some of the  things the group leaders were saying,” and another wrote that  it “did not feel like it was a joke, did not know if the  leaders were joking.”  Students told the social worker that the staff members – who  Santos said average around 25 years of age – used terms such as  “Going to get the dogs to eat you” and “Dumb  dark-skinned Negro person, how dare you look at me.” They  also reportedly said, “You’re not a person, you’re property,”  and “Don’t look me in the eyes, you’re worthless, keep your head  down.”

However, Santos claimed he never received a complaint about the  reenactment and that schools volunteer to participate. Still, he  said the program would be revised and updated to reflect clearly  defined goals.

“These are real feelings that we are eliciting,” he told  The Post. “Is it appropriate? That’s up for debate. I wouldn’t  deny that. This isn’t pushed on anyone. A person could opt out.”  The Baker family has enrolled their daughter, now in eighth  grade, in a different school in the Hartford area. Glenn Cassis,  the executive director of Connecticut’s African-American Affairs  Commission, was skeptical that the program had any educational  value.

“It’s abominable,” Cassis said. “No way in this world  should this be happening here or anywhere in 2013. Kids at that  age being traumatized in a re-enactment makes no sense. Why has  this been going on for so many years?”

5 thoughts on “Parent files lawsuit over slavery reenactment on school field trip

  1. I forget if it was in 2nd or 3rd grade and they did this same kind of thing pretty much only it was a grade school play for the parents. Yep, they said the same type of things like – and they did have us say things like – work nigger work, we own you so work and sassm boss, I`z sorry massa boss I didn`t mean it, I`l work harder boss, please don`t whoop me boss, mammy and pappy and that kind of bs crappy type of language. The difference is that the slave masters were our class mates and the slaves were also my class mates. The public school system has always taught racism and control and the difference of being the master and the slave.Yep they did this back in about `62 or it was `63. Also there were very very few black, mexican, or oriental people anywhere close to the town I lived in. Oh yea, and by the way, yes I have and still do have some very good freinds that are other than white. Didn`t seem to hurt any of us that were in that damned play even though we didn`t realy know anything about slavery and racism when we were just maybe 5 or 6 years old……….. Perhaps they did and still do this to indoctorate the kids in to their future of dumbed down slavery.

  2. Maybe they should do re-enactments of white girls getting sold by muslims
    as sex slaves like they did for a thousand years.

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