Slave trade assignment prompts Mehlville School District investigation

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OAKVILLE, Mo. – The Mehlville School District is investigating a recent classroom assignment at Blades Elementary School after fifth-graders were asked to consider what they’d charge for slaves during a social studies class.  The district has placed the teacher on administrative leave.

The president of the St. Louis County Chapter of the NAACP calls the assignment sad and unacceptable. “The position of the NAACP is we need a public apology,” said John Bowman.  He went on to say, “There also needs to be some serious and immediate implicit bias, cultural bias, cultural difference training.

Bowman said educators should be able to recognize the issue of slavery warrants greater sensitivity.

“I wouldn’t have this problem in the Jennings or Normandy School District,” he said.  “They are automatically aware of the sensitive nature of a topic like this.”

Bowman said he would like to meet with district officials soon.

Part of the assignment reads: “You own a plantation or farm and therefore need more workers. You begin to get involved in the slave trade industry and have slaves work on your farm. Your product to trade is slaves.” It then prompts students to set a price for a slave and advises, “These could be worth a lot.”

A picture of the troubling portion of the assignment was posted to Facebook Sunday afternoon.

The rest of the assignment focuses on trading other commodities like grains, lumber, turpentine, and fish. Fox 2 News has obtained the assignment in its entirety, which we have posted below:

A picture of the troubling portion of the assignment was posted to Facebook Sunday afternoon.

The rest of the assignment focuses on trading other commodities like grains, lumber, turpentine, and fish. Fox 2 News has obtained the assignment in its entirety, which we have posted below:

[scribd id=439039144 key=key-1XemkwtlaAgxho0ymD2Y mode=scroll]

On Monday, school principal Jeremy Booker sent out a letter out to families at Blades Elementary. He called the assignment “culturally insensitive” and said the teacher apologized. The principal said he would take measures to ensure all teachers and staff are aware of and respectful of “cultural bias in the near future.”

Dear Blades families,

This weekend, I became aware of an assignment that was provided to fifth-grade students in Social Studies. The assignment, which was completed during class time, attempted to address market practices. As part of both the Missouri Learning Standards for fifth-grade Social Studies and the fifth-grade Mehlville School District curriculum, students were learning about having goods, needing goods and obtaining goods and how that influenced early settlement in America. Some students who participated in this assignment were prompted to consider how plantation owners traded for goods and slaves.

The assignment was culturally insensitive. I appreciate the parents who notified me of this assignment. I met with the teacher this morning to discuss the purpose of the assignment, the teacher’s interpretation of curriculum standards, and the impact the activity could have on students.

The teacher has expressed significant remorse. The district is continuing to investigate this event. Also, I am working with district leadership to provide all Blades teachers and staff with professional development on cultural bias in the near future. We are working together to ensure all students and families feel valued and respected at Blades Elementary.

Please feel free to call me directly at 314-467-7300 with any questions you may have. I am always available for you and your students.


Dr. Jeremy Booker

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