Missouri Elementary School​ Assignment Asks Students to ‘Set your price for a slave’

Published on December 14, 2019

A Missouri elementary school teacher is placed on administrative leave after giving a class of fifth-graders an assignment to ‘set your price for a slave’.

The Assignments Attempt to Teach Market Value

It was part of a ‘westward expansion lesson’ for students to gain a better understanding of goods and their influence during the early settlement in America.

But someone claiming to be friends with the parents of the child snapped an image of the worksheet and posted it on Facebook, which caused many to question the teacher’s logic.

Some students were plantation slave owners, while others were fishermen along the major harbors/ports of Massachusetts. The question 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. Set your price for a slave. These could be worth a lot.”

Principal Jeremy Booker further explained the assignment in a letter to give parents and the community an idea of the assignments purpose.

“Some students who participated in this assignment were prompted to consider how plantation owners traded for goods and slaves,” said Booker.

But that did not cut-it. One person commented on Facebook, “fired immediately, not put on administrative leave, and to never teach again.”

Culturally Insensitive Assignment

And the last sheet is titled “Reflection,” so students can discuss what they ‘think a free market economy was?’ and if they were able to become wealthy in the process.

“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,” Booker’s email said.

But the assignment falls short for its lack of teaching the realities about slave owning and its consequences to American history.  

Booker continued saying, “the assignment was culturally insensitive…[and] the teacher has expressed significant remorse.”

A Response Addressing a Concerned Community of Parents

Angela Walker said to KMOV4 she was shocked to find th assignment in her son’s folder, and being a mother of a biracial son, she hopes the school district can learn from this.

“We have to be more culturally sensitive. We can say get over a homework assignment. It’s just a homework assignment. That was 100 years ago,” Walker said. “It was but it’s still someone else’s family. Maybe there are people who don’t see the wrong in it but we need to be talking about it.”

Chris Gaines,  Mehlville superintended, released a statement to address any concern the assignment raised and reassured the community this will not happen again. 

“Racism of any kind, even inadvertently stemming from cultural bias, is wrong and is not who we aspire to be as a school district. I am sorry and disappointed that this happened in our school. There is no quick fix for cultural bias,” said the superintended.

He continued by saying, “we will be devoting significant time and resources to train our staff on issues related to cultural competency, implicit bias, and equity.”

For the full assignment click here.

Kevin Pichinte is a staff writer at Grit Daily. Based in Los Angeles, he is a news associate at ABC7 and was formerly a digital news intern at NBC7 and TLM20. At Grit Daily, he covers entertainment and culture news.

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