Community reacts to kindergarten slavery lesson - WAFB 9 News Baton Rouge, Louisiana News, Weather, Sports

Community reacts to kindergarten slavery lesson

Coloring sheet given to students to take home, according to parent. Coloring sheet given to students to take home, according to parent.

A Montgomery parent says her child's teacher went too far in teaching a Kindergarten class about slavery.

"The verbal assignment was to ask your parents if you ever go back into slavery. And I asked him to repeat it, and he repeated it," said Jamelle Young, whose child is a student at MacMillan International Academy. "That's not a question you ask anybody, let alone a five year old."

Concerned, she emailed the school's principal and spoke with her child's teacher, who is also African-American. Young did not want her child identified.

"She said she did ask that," Young said. "She wanted to start a discussion amongst the parents and the children, and I told her I thought it was an inappropriate way to start the discussion and it could have been handled differently."

Young provided WSFA 12 News an email from the principal in response to Young's concerns.

"Slavery is taught throughout history in just about every grade level,' the principal wrote. "Although it is an ugly part of American history that none of us care to remember, it is important for children of all races to be aware of it to gain an appreciation for the diverse community in which we live today."

In her mind, the principal did not believe the teacher meant to offend. She said the slavery discussion came up after students were told about Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman and other figures in history, and had questions about slavery.

Young said the teacher also sent home a coloring sheet depicting a slave transaction.  Most disturbing for Young was her child's claim that the teacher had the students act out a slave auction.

"I find it ironic and hurtful that the two children that she named were the masters were the fairer-skinned boy and the fairer-skinned girl," Young said. "Everybody was black, I guess that participated but he said he didn't want to get on the table of the auction block. And how are you supposed to feel when your five year old says he didn't want to go on an auction."

One woman who has a grandchild in the class said at no time did the teacher order that students participate in the demonstration, but rather asked for volunteers.  The woman said she had no problem with the lesson.  She and others with children in the class have defended the teacher and the school.

For her part, Young believes kindergartners may not be able to grasp the concept of slavery.

"I'm not disputing that it shouldn't be taught," she said. "Not at all, it's a part of American history. It should be taught.  When should it be taught? Maybe not at five. How should it be taught? Definitely not standing on a table getting auctioned off."

Maureen Costello, director of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said slavery does get named in Alabama's curriculum standards until fourth grade.

"Slavery, kindergarten, too young, and for a couple of reasons," Costello said.  "One is it's just not appropriate in terms of the content and the understanding that kids have at that point. But the other thing that is going on in Kindergarten and first and second grade is the emotional and social well-being of children has to be attended to."

In response to a request for comment from WSFA 12 News, a spokesman for Montgomery Public Schools released a statement that said:

 "We are investigating a parent's concerns about the methods used by a teacher in providing instruction to students about slavery in America. We are working to ensure discussions concerning this period in our history are honest and appropriate both in content and in relation to the age and grade level of students. Montgomery Public Schools take parent concerns seriously and will take appropriate action, if warranted, once the investigation has concluded."

"I don't want the teacher fired, I have no personal vendetta against her, or the principal, nothing like that," Young said. "But I just want people to be mindful whether black or white, what we're telling our children and how we're telling our children."

Many of the parents who reached out to WSFA 12 News said they don't feel the teacher should lose her job over the incident. They're discussing whether to launch a petition drive.

Copyright 2013 WSFA 12 News.  All rights reserved.

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