"Asking a student to participate in a simulated activity that puts a price on a person is not acceptable," said the Mehlville School District superintendent.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on January 4, 2020. It has since been updated.
One would never expect a class assignment given to a group of fifth-graders would leave their parents appalled and outraged.
At the Blades Elementary School in Oakville, Missouri, a social studies assignment was administered to the students of the fifth grade. And out of the 12 questions that appeared on the assignment, one of them was shocking enough to get the elementary school under the spotlight.
Students were asked to set prices for different items in the assignment, which "attempted to address market practices," according to Jeremy Booker, the school principal.
The students were asked to set prices for goods such as a jug of milk, a bushel of grain, and a piece of lumber. While these may not raise an eyebrow, what did raise concern was one question that asked the students to imagine that they were part of the slave trade, and went on to ask what price they would assign to the product, which in this case was a slave.
The question the fifth graders were asked went on to say, "You own a plantation or farm and therefore need more workers. You begin to get involved in the slave trade industry and have slaves work on your farm. Your product to trade is slaves."
"Set your price for a slave. _____________ These could be worth a lot. You may trade for any items you'd like," the question went on to read.
One parent, Angela Walker was shocked when she found the assignment in her son's folder, and the blatant insensitivity with which it was worded.
"We have to be more culturally sensitive. We can say get over a homework assignment. It's just a homework assignment. That was 100 years ago," Angela told KMOV4. "It was but it's still someone else's family. Maybe there are people who don't see the wrong in it but we need to be talking about it."
The school's principal had written a letter to parents and said, "As part of both the Missouri Learning Standards for fifth-grade Social Studies and the fifth-grade Mehlville School District curriculum, students were learning about having goods, needing goods and obtaining goods and how that influenced early settlement in America. Some students who participated in this assignment were prompted to consider how plantation owners traded for goods and slaves," as quoted by CNN.
The principal expressed "significant remorse" and admitted that the assignment was "culturally insensitive". The teacher who gave out the assignment has been placed on administrative leave while the Mehlville School District investigates the matter.
Booker also wrote, "I am working with district leadership to provide all Blades teachers and staff with professional development on cultural bias in the near future. We are working together to ensure all students and families feel valued and respected at Blades Elementary."
The Mehlville School District superintendent, Chris Gaines also apologized for the inappropriate assignment. "Asking a student to participate in a simulated activity that puts a price on a person is not acceptable," the superintendent wrote in a statement. "Racism of any kind, even inadvertently stemming from cultural bias, is wrong and is not who we aspire to be as a school district. I am sorry and disappointed that this happened in our school."
Further talking about why the assignment was "unacceptable", the St. Louis County branch of the NAACP wrote in a statement, as reported by ABC News, "It’s very inhumane, it does not speak to us taking care of each other as human beings."