Parents file complaint against district over slavery role-playing exercise

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HARTFORD, Conn. – It’s obviously important for America’s K-12 students to learn about slavery.
slavery role-playingBut isn’t is possible to teach kids about the horrors of the “peculiar institution” without forcing them to experience the horrors themselves?

Apparently seventh-graders at the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy have been going on annual field trips to a place called ”Nature’s Classroom” in Charlton, Massachusetts, according to a story posted on

Part of the field trip involves students – many of them black – engaging in a slavery role-playing exercise titled “Underground Railroad.”

Steve and Sandra Baker are the parents of a daughter who participated in the program last year, and they’ve been lobbying school board members and school administrators to do something about it.

They weren’t happy with the response they received from school officials, so they have filed a complaint against the school district with the state Department of Education and various other agencies.


According to their daughter’s account, the children were forced to sit in a dark room, very close together, in the same manner that captured Africans were transported on ships across the Atlantic Ocean.

In the words of the Bakers’ daughter, “I was told by the instructor that we will have to go to the bathroom on each other, and some of us might throw up.”

During a play-acting scene in which the children were supposedly picking cotton, the girl said instructors “told me if I were to run they would whip me until I bled on the floor, and then either cut met my Achilles so I can’t run again or hang me.”

During another session, the student apparently heard instructors say, “Bring those (n word) over to the house over there. (N word) if you can read there’s a problem. Dumb, dark-skinned (n word). How dare you look at me?”

Students reportedly later said they had a mixture of feelings about the experience, including “uncomfortable with not being able to talk and lift up their heads,” “scary, too dark, hard to walk on the trails in the woods,” “uncomfortable with the yelling” and “did not feel it was a joke, did not know if the leaders were joking.”

In a presentation to the school board, Sandra Baker said that “even though it has been 10 months since my daughter shared what happened on this part of the trip, I still find it outrageous and irresponsible. I can’t comprehend how the principal and a group of teachers could allow our children to be intentionally demeaned. verbally abused and emotionally terrorized.

“As an African-American parent, I carefully consider how my children receive messages about racial identity, and I do this because all too often these images are not positive. There is no way I would have allowed our child to participate in this aspect of the field trip had we been given the choice.”

The Bakers are correct. It’s one thing to teach kids about an ugly part of American history. It’s quite another to verbally abuse children and put them in frightening and uncomfortable situations.

One of the reasons to detest the shameful period of American slavery (besides the obvious fact that no human should be owned by another human) is that the victims were often treated badly.

A great war was fought, and decades of struggle followed, to ensure that people would never be treated like this again. And yet it happens during a school field trip, supposedly as a “learning experience.”

As Sandra Baker put it, “The fact that they used the ‘n word.’ I mean, how dare you say that to my child and call it an educational experience. How dare you say that to any child.”

By Steve Gunn at

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