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Black Students Forced to 'Play' Slave in Horrifying School Field Trip

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Posted by on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:06 AM
  • 76 Replies

Black Students Forced to 'Play' Slave in Horrifying School Field Trip

by Jeanne Sager

school busIf your kids' school sent home a permission slip asking for them to take part in a slavery re-enactment on a field trip, what would you do? Freak? Now what if the school sent your kid off to "play" slaves, complete with "masters" chasing you through the woods, screaming the "n-word" ... and didn't warn you?

Parents of seventh graders at a Connecticut school are hopping mad right now because they say that's exactly what happened to their kids. They sent their kids off on a four-day trip to the Nature's Classroom in Charlton, Massachusetts, with their school, and the kids came home shell-shocked.

According to mom Sandra Baker, her daughter -- who is black -- was forced to play a slave in a re-enactment that included being told:

Bring those (n-word) 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?

No child should be put through that -- history lesson or no history lesson. Could you imagine signing your kid up for that?

The Bakers said they didn't. They OK'd a field trip, not an evening of racist cruelty.

I tend to believe them. What parent in their right mind would OK something like that?

I'm upset on their behalf, on their daughter's behalf, and more than a little uneasy on the behalf of parents everywhere. If this is the kind of thing a school doesn't think they have to run past parents, what else could we be signing our kids up for when we send them on a field trip?

I'll cop to having just signed on the dotted line when the permission slip comes home. I've figured it's a trip for kids, the school must know that it's appropriate, right? Right?

Clearly not always. This should never have happened to the kids from the Hartford Magnet Trinity College Academy, nor should it happen to any kid, anywhere.

Does your kids' school spell out what will happen on a field trip?

by on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:06 AM
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Replies (1-10):
by Bronze Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:09 AM
2 moms liked this

That is absolutely disgraceful. No parent in their right mind would be okay with that if it had been spelled out in the details of the field trip. What a deplorable act by the school...

by Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:10 AM
by JRM on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:17 AM
5 moms liked this

Kids can stand to learn a little empathy about how other people were forced to live. I have no problem with this assignment.

....I am only responsible for what I say,NOT for what you understand.....
by New Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:27 AM
2 moms liked this

I went there and it wasn't as bad as it seems, and I went to catholic school. All the students were acting as slaves, it was a great life experience for my class. Not trying to bash you at all, just let you know from a view of a student.

by Ruby Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:50 AM
2 moms liked this

That is pretty bad.

by on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:53 AM
If it is ALL the kids, it is not as disgusting. Still should have told the parents the basic plan, but parents also need to look it up. If the teacher found the place, I'm sure the parents could have too.

Quoting kay.kayleigh:

I went there and it wasn't as bad as it seems, and I went to catholic school. All the students were acting as slaves, it was a great life experience for my class. Not trying to bash you at all, just let you know from a view of a student.

by Gold Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:58 AM
3 moms liked this
If it is as described, I don't understand how it is even close to necessary for educational or even empathetic purposes. Over the top and even minimizing the treatment of slaves by thinking that children should experience that crap.
by on Sep. 23, 2013 at 8:59 AM
2 moms liked this
For over 41 years Nature’s Classroom has proudly provided quality educational experiences to schools and communities throughout New England and New York. We design curriculum-based programming that coordinates with classroom learning. Nature’s Classroom welcomes and encourages evaluation and feedback on all of our educational activities. Every week dozens of school teachers, administrators and parents and hundreds of students evaluate the classes which they have observed or taken part in. Their comments, opinions and suggestions continuously make us better able to serve our visiting school communities.

The Underground Railroad activity was first offered about 20 years ago. It is one of hundreds of activities that schools can choose to do, or not do, based on their academic goals. Almost 200 schools see it as a valuable extension of their classroom lessons, and request it as one of their many activities. Other schools do not.

At Nature’s Classroom we value diversity and inclusiveness and we strive towards a better understanding of each other. Many of our activities encourage teamwork, working together to build bridges both literally and figuratively. The Underground Railroad activity is no exception.

During the Underground Railroad activity, we ask students to step into the role of an enslaved African trying to escape on the Underground Railroad. Teachers, administrators, and parents from the students’ school act as conductors. They guide groups of students on a walk through the woods. During the journey, the group meets and interacts with Nature’s Classroom teachers playing a variety of different characters. Some teachers represent abolitionists, giving the students a place to rest, food to eat, or hints or tips to travel safely. Some teachers represent bounty hunters, patrollers, or a sheriff, people looking for runaway slaves. This activity includes preparation before the journey and debrief after the journey. Our goal is to introduce students to some of the complexities and difficulties surrounding slavery, understand the courage it took to run, the courage it took to assist those running, and to draw connections between discrimination and prejudice then and discrimination and prejudice today.

In August 2013 Nature’s Classroom first learned that a complaint was filed with the Department of Education regarding the Underground Railroad activity. No details about the complaint were released at that time. Nature’s Classroom began an evaluation of this particular activity. We reached out to teachers and administrators in the almost 200 schools that chose to do the Underground Railroad program last year. We reached out to current and former Nature’s Classroom staff. We carefully reviewed the general feedback provided by the Connecticut Department of Education. We revised the program’s goals and objectives. We redesigned aspects of the Underground Railroad program to better fit the new goals and objectives. And we put in place a long-term plan to reevaluate the design of the entire program within a year. We informed the schools that participate in this program of upcoming changes.

Yesterday we finally learned the details of the complaint from media sources. We were shocked to hear some of the comments included in the complaint. Nature’s Classroom does not condone the use of the n-word. We would have taken immediate disciplinary action, including dismissal, had we known of this concern. We began an investigation into the specific complaints yesterday. This investigation is ongoing, and we can share the following information at this time:

This school chose to do the Underground Railroad activity, as they have chosen to do for over 5 years.

Students are always able to remove themselves from the activity, or choose not to participate in the activity.

Students were never chased through the woods. They were, however, led walking through the woods by teachers from their school that acted as conductors. These conductors supervised the students. They supervised the student’s interactions with Nature’s Classroom teachers.

The teachers from the school that acted as conductors had the following feedback on the program: “We had a very positive experience with [the] Underground Railroad.” They did not bring up any concerns or mention any behavior as inappropriate.

During staff training, Nature’s Classroom teachers have conversations about appropriate and inappropriate language during this activity. This particular staff had a very specific conversation about never using the n-word.

No Nature’s Classroom teacher that was present that night, that we have been able to question so far, reports using or hearing the use of the n-word at any point during their careers as Nature’s Classroom teachers.

If this complaint does turn out to be valid, we offer our sincerest apologies for the comments made. Our intention is to empower students to be positive leaders in the face of discrimination, prejudice and bullying in their own lives today. The reaction of this particular child and her family are clearly not in line with our goals for the activity, and we are deeply sorry that this was their experience.

Dr. John G. Santos

Executive Director

Nature’s Classroom
by Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 10:12 AM

I went to Nature's Classroom and played this game in 1992. There was no racially charged language or anything really racist in it, other than the fact that we were representing slaves and slaves were black. It was really one of the more enjoyable activities in a trip I wish I'd skipped.

by Bronze Member on Sep. 23, 2013 at 11:33 AM
2 moms liked this

What in the world!! It's not the 1800's and this is downright disrespectful. What are they teaching these children. If they want a history lesson, then read the damn history books 

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