Channeling Frederick Douglass, a South Carolina elementary school decided to ask third graders to imagine what it would have been like to be slaves and to describe their day-to-day existence in a journal.
According to Fox affiliate WFXG, students at Killian Elementary School were given a five-page handout during the last week of February titled “My Life as a Slave.”
When Qwayla Deter’s 9-year-old nephew brought home a copy of the diary, she was outraged, calling the project “insensitive.” She was interviewed by reporters once the story made headlines, telling them:
It made me upset, mainly because I feel like it’s offensive, like it’s disrespectful, and it’s very insensitive to the culture and everything that slaves had to go through.
As an 8-year-old mentally, you are not able to internalize the information that is being given. You can’t make a connection with this. I don’t think it’s educational. I don’t think it’s informative. If anything, it’s just re-enslaving children.
In addition to the diary, students were called upon to draw a picture of a slave ship, a plantation, and complete a diagram comparing a slave’s life to their own life.
Initially, the Richland County School District circled the wagons, claiming the assignment was in line with the state’s third-grade social studies standards, one of which reads:
Explain the role of Africans in developing the culture and economy of South Carolina, including the growth of the slave trade; slave contributions to the plantation economy; the daily lives of the enslaved people; the development of the Gullah culture; and their resistance to slavery.
Helen Grant, director of diversity for the district, maintains, “It’s difficult to find the material and difficult to find ways to teach the content to them.”
That’s not surprising considering the wording of the standard.
The assignment has since been pulled by the district.