Teacher on leave for ‘pretend you are a slave’ assignment

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — A high school teacher in Iowa has been placed on leave for assigning students to “pretend you are a black slave.”

The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported that the assignment for an Iowa City school district online learning program for students assigned to different schools asked students to write four sentences about what they would do if they were a slave who was freed.

“Think very, very carefully about what your life would be like as a slave in 1865,” the assignment reads. “You can’t read or write and you have never been off the plantation you work on. What would you do when you hear the news you are free? What factors would play into the decision you make?”

The teacher, whose name was not released, was placed on administrative leave and the assignment was removed, Iowa City Community School District spokeswoman Kristin Pedersen said. A statement from the district called the assignment “inappropriate” and said it “does not support and will not tolerate this type of instruction.”

Dibny Gamez said her 14-year-old daughter, Ayesha, could not complete the assignment because it made her feel uncomfortable. Ayesha is among a small number of Black students in the class.

“She just starts tearing up,” Gamez said. “And I was, like, ‘No, listen, you don’t have to be ashamed of who you are.’ I said, ‘You are beautiful for who you are. Don’t let not one soul make you uncomfortable for who you are.’”

Assignments asking students to role-play enslaved people or slave owners trivialize or distort the actual events of slavery, said Justin Grinage, a professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Minnesota who focuses his research on race and education.

“The best-case scenario with lessons like this is that students come away with a fabricated lie about history. So, best-case scenario, they don’t really learn anything, or they learn the wrong thing,” Grinage said. “Worst-case scenario is that it’s a deeply traumatic experience for students of color, particularly Black students.”

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This story has been corrected to note the assignment was made in an online learning program, not a specific school.

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