California High School Under Fire for Slavery Reenactment Project

© AFP/File Fabien Offner
AFP/File Fabien Offner

A California high school has come under fire for a controversial history project that involved students reenacting conditions on a slave ship.

According to the CBS Los Angeles affiliate, Cerritos’ Whitney High School is facing backlash from parents, students and faculty alike for a classroom exercise that involved reenacting life on a slave ship:

A mother complained recently after getting an email from her son’s teacher explaining the “unique classroom activity,” which was to be a surprise. Staff would act as slave ship captains, the email described, and the children slaves.

After lining the kids up, the note said, they’d “use masking tape to ‘tie’ their wrists together, make them lay on the ground, and in a dark room have them watch a clip from the film ‘Roots.’ ”

The Daily Mail provided a glimpse into the teacher’s rationale for the classroom exercise:

In the original email to parents, teacher Kevin Harp of himself and two other white history teachers: ‘In order to help students understand the psychological impact of slavery on Africans brought over to this country, all of us do a simulation activity in our classes that tries to recreate the voyage that slaves went on across the Atlantic Ocean, on their way to the new world.

‘We will be acting as slave ship captains and your son/daughter will be pretending to be a slave.

‘When class starts, we will sternly tell them to line up outside the room, use masking tape to “tie” their wrists together, make them lay on the ground inside the room (which will be dark), shoulder to shoulder with each other (boys and girls in separate rows) and then while they lay there, have them watch a clip from the film Roots.’

Sharde Carrington,  mother of one of the students scheduled to participate in the class activity, posted about her outrage on Facebook, reportedly telling the school that her son would not be participating, according to a Huffington Post interview:

“As the mother of a black child, I feared that my son’s participation would lead him to experience trauma, perhaps at the cellular level, and have a visceral reaction of anger and fear during the exercise itself,” Carrington explained.

In a response to the eighth-grade history instructors, Carrington stated that her son was forbidden from participating in the “demeaning and grossly insensitive exercise,” and argued that the experience of slavery cannot be summed up “with [masking] tape and a movie clip.”

Carrington, a paralegal by profession but currently a stay-at-home mom, questioned not only the racial insensitivity to students of color, but also the methodology and logic behind the lesson: “Would you simulate rape in order to encourage sensitivity toward survivors? Will children pretend to be in Japanese internment camps as well?”

The program was removed from the curriculum on Monday, according to multiple news reports, a decision other faculty members at the school reportedly supported.

The demographic make up of the school is overwhelmingly Latino and Asian.

Tim Donnelly is a former California State Assemblyman and Author, currently on a book tour for his new book: Patriot Not Politician: Win or Go Homeless.  He also ran for governor in 2014.


Twitter:  @PatriotNotPol


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.