Detroit-Area Teacher Asks Students: Work In A Factory Or Be A Slave?

When teaching slavery to students in a historically divided region like Metro Detroit, it's probably not a good idea to only focus on the "good" parts of slavery to make it an attractive option to an alternative. One school district is learning that lesson after a parent raised that very complaint.

Tina James says her 13-year-old daughter's middle school history teacher asked the class to complete an in-class essay, without parental involvement, in which they had to choose between working in a factory or being a slave during the Industrial Revolution.

The Michigan Department of Education encourages schools to teach 8th-grade students the differences in livelihoods between free blacks and slaves. But James tells WWJ her daughter's teacher at Novi Middle School in Novi, an Oakland County suburb north of Detroit, went about this concept the wrong way.

James, who independently takes time to teach her children about African American history, said her daughter came home from school very upset, offended and nearly in tears — not only because she knew some of the tragic events that occurred during slavery times, but because of the response of her peers.

"The majority of the class felt that they would rather be a slave than to be a factory worker. And she was just extremely confused by that, knowing what slaves went through, she couldn't understand why anyone would choose that," James said. "The rationale by those students to choose slaves was that they had free housing, they had free food and they had free protection. But the argument that she and I put forth was that those things were not free."

James approached the school's principal and asked if the same kind of analogy could be used if the teacher had used the Holocaust instead of slavery. But the principal dismissed that because her daughter is an American history class. (As an aside, Jewish history is apparently another difficult subject for suburban Detroit school districts.)

Only after meeting with the school district's superintendent was the essay question rescinded and the situation resolved. "This can certainly be a learning situation, both for the teachers and for the students," the superintendent said.

Photo via AP