The GEM Debate:
Teaching About Slavery…Is THIS The Right Way To Do It?
How do you learn? Are you able to hear about a concept and you are off to the races applying knowledge or do you need to see, feel, touch, and DO before you have a handle on the information? Keep that answer in mind. I’m going to ask the question again in a bit.
Teaching slavery. How do you do it? One teacher in Alabama is under scrutiny for their method with kindergartners. The unnamed teacher at MacMillan International Academy had children “act out” a slave auction. A parent, Jamelle Young, was shocked when her 5-year-old came home upset at the activity of being sold off at auction. The kids were also tasked with asking their parents if they would ever go back into slavery with a nice little worksheet depicting an auction (lest the parents had forgotten I guess) to boot.
First, one of Young’s problems was that the school was teaching slavery to children who are too young. That’s really for the school board to decide. Parents get a say in that process and I’m hoping that Young is front and center at the next meeting. I don’t think that it is too young for children to learn about slavery because it speaks to why racism is a bad thing and how we are all the same just different colors. I’ve definitely been approached on more than one occasion by a Caucasian tyke who thought “brown people” were different and their parents’ red faces let me know that their schools aren’t teaching diversity in any form. But like I said that is for the school board to decide.
Second, I don’t absolutely detest the learning style. What I DO detest is there not being any type of randomness in the way the roles were doled out. Per Young the teacher had “fair-skinned” children be masters at the auction. MacMillan is comprised of 65 percent African-American students. No specific statistics were found for the particular class, but it would seem that this demonstration could have been more diverse. Maybe the children could have taken turns, and maybe they even would have at a later date. Children learn by seeing. Phrases like “auction”, or “slave” have very little meaning to them unless they see it; just like “orange” only meant flat, orange circle to Joelle until we had an actual orange in front of her.
I don’t know where teachers submit the lesson plans they use, but someone fell asleep at the wheel or someone was flying by the seat of their pants. Slavery is a delicate issue to raise with someone who is five years old. Heck. It’s delicate all the time (Django Unchained, anyone?). This teacher took what they probably thought was a novel approach to learning too fast. Children need tactile references, sure, but I have to believe there are dolls, action figures, or some other way to explain this painful part of history without actually having to relive it through some sort of show and tell with actual students.
So, how do you learn? Was this a novel approach gone wrong? What age is appropriate to teach this to youngsters and how do you suggest teachers go about it? Let’s hear ya?
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Ella Rucker is the mother of one of the smartest, funniest two-year-olds she’s ever met. She is currently assistant to the head GEM which means hats-a-plenty including writing, editing, and producing for Good Enough Mother. An Ohio native implanted in NYC for the last 13 years, Ella has achieved one of her many dreams by writing. Her musings (she’s amused they’d be called “musings”) can be found at other places on the web so make sure you follow her on twitter @ellalaverne for all the information.