Parents outraged over school’s slavery reenactment field trip

Connecticut parents and the state's African-American Affairs Commission call the field trip "emotional abuse"

Topics: slavery, Education, Racism, ,

A Connecticut mother has filed a human rights complaint against the Hartford school system after her daughter was made to participate in a slavery reenactment that included a nighttime “raid” in which students had to hide in the woods from their “white masters” and were called racial slurs by adult supervisors.

Sandra Baker told the Hartford Courant that her daughter, who is African-American and was 12 years old at the time of the trip, was “terrorized” during the class trip to Nature’s Classroom in Charlton, Mass.

After Baker asked her daughter about the trip, “She started telling me what happened,” she says. “I was like, ‘What?’ I was stunned. … We crossed all our t’s and dotted all our i’s. This, I didn’t see coming.”

More from the Courant:

According to the Bakers, the re-enactment exercise occurred on the third night and included threatening language and use of a racial epithet; packing together students in a dark room, as if they were on a slave ship; and hiding in the woods from “white masters” — instructors at Nature’s Classroom who were white.

The students were acting as slaves who had escaped.

Glenn Cassis, executive director of the state’s African-American Affairs Commission, said he learned from Nature’s Classroom that schools in at least several other Connecticut school systems had participated in the Underground Railroad re-enactment.

“It’s outrageous,” Cassis said.

Hartford schools spokesman David Medina said Thursday that because the human rights commission is “a quasi-judicial proceeding, our legal counsel has advised us not to comment.” Medina said he could not say whether school-sanctioned field trips to Nature’s Classroom would continue.

You Might Also Like

John G. Santos, director of Nature’s Classroom, said the exercise has “validity,” and when commenting on the use of racial slurs, remarked, “Stupid things happen”:

The slavery re-enactment is an “activity that has validity, it’s an historical event, it’s a simulation,” Santos said Thursday. Although Nature’s Classroom is focused on ecology, “ecology includes humankind and we’re working on behalf, and with the schools, that have four major subjects, history being one of them, the social sciences another.”

However, Santos said, “No one at Nature’s Classroom would ever endorse the use of the N-word. … Come on. Can it happen? Of course it can happen. Stupid things happen.”

The goal for students undergoing the exercise is “awareness of physical and emotional and cultural supremacy over another,” said Santos, who compared the subjugation of slavery to current-day bullying. “It’s a very, very heartfelt understanding of an underclassed group … a personal reaction to the historical event, bringing it to bear on day-to-day living.”

Student reactions to the experience have been mixed, according to the school, and Santos has met with the Hartford School system to discuss the program.

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 13
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    DAYA  
    Young Daya has yet to become entirely jaded, but she has the character's trademark skeptical pout down pat. And with a piece-of-work mother like Aleida -- who oscillates between jealousy and scorn for her creatively gifted daughter, chucking out the artwork she brings home from summer camp -- who can blame her?

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    MORELLO   
    With her marriage to prison penpal Vince Muccio, Lorna finally got to wear the white veil she has fantasized about since childhood (even if it was made of toilet paper).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CINDY   
    Cindy's embrace of Judaism makes sense when we see her childhood, lived under the fist of a terrifying father who preached a fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. As she put it: "I was raised in a church where I was told to believe and pray. And if I was bad, I’d go to hell."

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CAPUTO   
    Joey Caputo has always tried to be a good guy, whether it's offering to fight a disabled wrestler at a high school wrestling event or giving up his musical ambitions to raise another man's child. But trying to be a nice guy never exactly worked out for him -- which might explain why he decides to take the selfish route in the Season 3 finale.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    BOO   
    In one of the season's more moving flashbacks, we see a young Boo -- who rejected the traditional trappings of femininity from a young age -- clashing with her mother over what to wear. Later, she makes the decision not to visit her mother on her deathbed if it means pretending to be something she's not. As she puts it, "I refuse to be invisible, Daddy. Not for you, not for Mom, not for anybody.”

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    SOSO
    We still don't know what landed Brooke Soso in the slammer, but a late-season flashback suggests that some seriously overbearing parenting may have been the impetus for her downward spiral.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    POUSSEY
    We already know a little about Poussey's relationship with her military father, but this season we saw a softer side of the spunky fan-favorite, who still pines for the loving mom that she lost too young.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    PENNSATUCKY
    Pennsatucky had something of a redemption arc this season, and glimpses of her childhood only serve to increase viewer sympathy for the character, whose mother forced her to chug Mountain Dew outside the Social Security Administration office and stripped her of her sexual agency before she was even old enough to comprehend it.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    CHANG
    This season, we got an intense look at the teenage life of one of Litchfield's most isolated and underexplored inmates. Rebuffed and scorned by her suitor at an arranged marriage, the young Chinese immigrant stored up a grudge, and ultimately exacted a merciless revenge.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    HEALY
    It's difficult to sympathize with the racist, misogynist CO Sam Healy, but the snippets we get of his childhood -- raised by a mentally ill mother, vomited on by a homeless man he mistakes for Jesus when he runs to the church for help -- certainly help us understand him better.

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NORMA
    This season, we learned a lot about one of Litchfield's biggest enigmas, as we saw the roots of Norma's silence (a childhood stutter) and the reason for her incarceration (killing the oppressive cult leader she followed for decades).

    The 12 most incredible pint-size look-alikes in "Orange Is the New Black" season 3

    NICKI
    While Nicki's mother certainly isn't entirely to blame for her daughter's struggles with addiction, an early childhood flashback -- of an adorable young Nicki being rebuffed on Mother's Day -- certainly helps us understand the roots of Nicki's scarred psyche.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

Loading Comments...