Kids ‘Sold’ As Slaves?

May 24, 2010 by  
Filed under Parenting

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How far do you take a history lesson?

I was called by the Delaware News Journal to comment on a story about a history lesson in a Delaware school, that had, perhaps, gone too far. The article, as published in the journal on May 4, 2010 read,

“Eleven-year-old Micaela Reyes’ best friend and four other students were sold into slavery last week during a private-school lesson in Roman history and behavior reinforcement. The exercise was incorporated into a fifth-grade history lesson titled “Rome, Ruler of the Ancient World” at Eagle’s Nest Christian Academy, a school in Milton for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. The five students who were auctioned off to classmates had low merit points, said Reyes’ mother, Margaret, who called the lesson “demeaning.”

Child psychologist (Dr.) Vicki Panaccione of the Better Parenting Institute in Melbourne, Fla., said teaching history experientially is a good way to explain practices and occurrences of the day. But, she said, singling out low-performing students and using them as slaves only serves to enforce a negative stigma.

“If they volunteered, that would have been one thing,” she said. “But to take the kids at the bottom of the (academic) performance — that’s just like putting a big ‘L’ for loser on their foreheads.”

My comments in the article only begin to voice the concern I had about this exercise. Slavery was abominable, no doubt about it. And, trying to simulate it in a learning experience can be an effective way of teaching. That being said, if the kids auctioned were volunteers, or were chosen by some random criterion (i.e. blue eyes, below a certain height, seated in the first row, etc.) that would be more palatable. But to choose them based on their number of merit points (earned by grades, behavior, etc.) can cause not only embarrassment, but long lasting damage to their self-esteem.

Kids with low grades, lesser capabilities, etc. already are painfully aware of their limitations or how they measure up to their peers. Singling them out to play a demeaning role is just poor judgment. Not only that…school is supposed to be a safe place for children. It shouldn’t be a place to be singled out for potential ridicule, or worse…internal shame. Let’s teach this lesson as it should be: by having everyone take turns, first being the auctioned slaves, and then being their owners. There is something to be learned by the idea of ‘owning’ someone and putting a value on his/her worth, just as much as to experience the degradation of being treatment as an object to be bought.

Click here to read the complete story.

UPDATE: I would like to share with you a comment sent to me from the parents of Michaela Reyes’ mother:

Dear Dr. Vicki,

I personally wanted to thank you for your assessment of the slavery auction on the children at my daughter’s school. She suffered after the article and was singled out for punishment by the teacher, and was then accused of practicing witchcraft because her shirt was untucked. not withstanding, she was the top performing child academically in her entire grade.
She is an amazing child – and I am so proud of her resilience and her performance inspite of all that happened and did not fail to tell her. I also showed her your article to re-enforce she was right.
so thank you again.

Sincerely,
Margaret and Micaela Reyes

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