‘Set your price for a slave’: Elementary school teacher on leave after controversial classroom activity

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MEHLVILLE, Mo. — An elementary school teacher in Missouri has been placed on administrative leave after a controversial slave trade classroom activity.

The incident happened at Blades Elementary School in Mehlville.

During the assignment, a group of fifth-graders were asked to set prices for different goods and then reflect on topics such as a free market economy and wealth.

The 12 questions touched on items like lumber, wool, milk, tar, and so on. However, the last item raised a few eyebrows.

The question read:

“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 assignment was culturally insensitive,” principal Jeremy Booker said told KMOV. “The teacher has expressed significant remorse.”

Booker sent parents a letter explaining the assignment, adding that actions are being taken to rectify what happened and keep it from happening again.

“The school district is continuing to investigate this event,” Booker said. “I am working with district leadership to provide all Blades teachers and staff with professional development on cultural bias in the near future.”

Many parents expressed outrage, and many, like Angela Walker, said the school needs to be more culturally sensitive.

“We have to be more culturally sensitive,” Walker said. “We can say get over a homework assignment. It’s just a homework assignment. That was 100 years ago. 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.”

During his assignment, her bi-racial son set the price for slaves as two for $5, stating that it was a reasonable price because “lots of people were buying a slaves for 5$.”

Walker said she and her husband then had to teach their son another lesson at home: every life has value.

“There’s no value to playing a game about slavery,” she said.

The unnamed teacher was placed on administrative leave Monday night.

The NAACP has called for a formal apology from the teacher and superintendent. They also offered to help train school staff.

Mehlville’s superintendent released the following 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. There is no quick fix for cultural bias. We will be devoting significant time and resources to train our staff on issues related to cultural competency, implicit bias and equity.

Superintendent Chris Gaines

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