Equity & Diversity

Black Students Say Their P.E. Teacher Asked Them to Play ‘Slave Games’

By Sarah Schwartz — April 17, 2019 2 min read
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A Wisconsin physical education teacher has been placed on leave after black students said that she asked them to research and play “slave games.”

One of the students, 7th grader MaHailey Stephens, told news station WITI-TV that the teacher had separated the class at Shorewood Intermediate School by race and asked them to research games from their cultures.

The black students, said Stephens, were told to look up games that enslaved children had played.

Alexis Averette, another 7th grader in the class, told news station WTMJ-TV that the teacher forced her and her partner “to reenact slavery in front of the entire class.”

“When we told her we were uncomfortable she told us we still had to do it,” said Averette.

In a letter to parents last week, Shorewood Schools Superintendent Bryan Davis wrote that the lesson in question was about “games from around the world.”

The teacher is under investigation, Davis wrote in the letter. “We take these allegations extremely serious. Throughout this situation, student safety and well-being have been our top priority. ... We are committed to providing an environment of inclusion in our schools,” the letter reads.

This incident is the latest in a string of newsmaking lessons on slavery this year—lessons that students and parents have called out as racist and harmful to black students.

See also: Mock Auctions. Pretending to Flee Captors. Do Simulations Have a Place in Lessons on Slavery?

In a different gym class this February, in Brambleton, Va., students played an obstacle course game meant to simulate escaping slavery through the Underground Railroad.

In March, a 4th grade teacher in North Carolina also assigned a game about the famous network of secret routes and safe houses, asking students to play a Monopoly-like game about the journey.

Also last month, a 5th grade teacher in New York told several black students to play slaves, and pretended to auction them off to their majority-white classmates.

Many educators discourage classroom activities like these, that reenact or gamify elements of slavery. When I wrote about slavery simulations last month, experts told me that these lessons can minimize horrific events and cause emotional hurt to black students.

Teachers should avoid any activities that attempt to mine slavery for entertainment value, said LaGarrett King, an associate professor at the University of Missouri’s college of education, in an interview with Education Week in March.

“Black people whose legacy is connected to that history of enslavement see it through a painful, oppressive lens, because their history is tied to that legacy,” he said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.