It seems like at least once a year, a school or even an entire school district apologizes for a racist lesson gone wrong. This time around, Union County Public Schools in North Carolina is in the hot seat after a group of fourth-grade students was tasked with developing social media hashtags that people may have tweeted during the Civil War.
Inspired by the lesson, fourth-graders at Waxhaw Elementary School made up tweets saying things like Slavery Forever and Slavery for Life.
Charlotte-based Fox 46 reported one student used the handle @dontstopslavery made a tweet that said “you may not agree with slavery but I do and I’m honest about it. #Slaveryforlife.”
Another student tweeted about not wanting to leave the county and staying put with their slaves using the hashtag #SLAVERYFOREVER.
It is unclear what context, if any, the students were given with this assignment. But the tweets were posted on the class wall and later highlighted on the school’s official Facebook page. There were no anti-slavery tweets highlighted according to news reports.
Staff apologized after the story made the news.
This is a clear example of the importance of intent versus impact. Regardless of the school or teacher’s intent, the impact was children not learning the right lessons from the presented curriculum and furthering misunderstanding of a critical time in American history.
Allegedly the assignment was supposed to help students understand the perspective of a key historical figure. It is unclear which historical figures were being prioritized in this assignment.
And this isn’t just a southern school district issue. A few years ago a school in New Jersey came under attack for white students selling Black classmates in a mock slave auction. In 2019, a private school in New York had Black students placed in “imaginary” chains.
These glaring examples of clear misunderstanding or even a lack of care in teaching about the institution of slavery and its horrific impact, make the case for utilizing guiding sources like the 1619 project even more imperative.
Lawmakers across the country have not only resisted having better cultural competency in educational curriculum but also recent attempts to specifically exclude the 1619 project and related issues point to a larger ideological issue.
Located in Union County, North Carolina, Waxhaw Elementary School is about one-quarter non-white according to public data. Selina Campbell, chair of the Union County NAACP Education Committee, issued a response that was later posted to the organization’s Facebook page.
“The tweets that the children were most proud of is indicative of the thoughts, values, and oppressive practices of the families and leadership here in Union County,” wrote Campbell.
She called on the students to be taught an accurate version of history that reflects the experience of enslaved Black people as well. “These are just children that need to be taught how treacherous and demonic slavery was and that Black people are still suffering from the residue of it today.”
Anoa Changa is a movement journalist and retired attorney based in Atlanta, Georgia. Follow Anoa on Instagram and Twitter @thewaywithanoa.
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