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Metro Detroit parent upset with assignment about slave punishments, including beatings and death

4th grade students given assignment

CANTON, Mich. – A parent is upset with a Black History Month assignment about slavery given to her fourth grade child at a Canton school.

Officials at Achieve Charter Academy said they aim to teach students about historically sensitive topics in a “thoughtful way,” but Audie Maxwell believed the assignment her 9-year-old son had to do crossed a line.

The assignment had several questions, including ones that asked about the punishment slaves would receive.

See the assignment below.

Maxwell’s son, Alex, said the questions upset him.

“What would slave masters do if they found the runaway?” Alex said one of the questions read. “I put my head down. The teacher came over to me and asked me what was wrong.”

Maxwell said Alex’s teacher called her, so she took a look at her son’s assignment.

“I was shocked to see some of the questions that were there,” Maxwell said. “They were very derogatory. The answer was they were beaten or put to death. My son is nine. This is fourth grade.”

Maxwell said parents fought for Black History Month curriculum, but she is disappointed with the assignment the school decided to use.

The school issued a statement saying it will stop using the assignment.

Maxwell believes a field trip to the Charles H. Wright Museum or the Second Baptist Church in Detroit would be a good learning experience for the students instead of the worksheet.

“It’s a way to say that there was slavery and slaves were mistreated without having to be so derogatory. Though we do know slavery was a part of history and we do know people were abused in this time, I think where we’re trying to go in America, this just contradicts everything,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell said the school is diverse, and does acknowledge and highlight cultural differences on other occasions, but she wants school leaders to think about the messages they are sending to young students.

“There is growth there [at the school] but it’s just a lot of work to do,” Maxwell said.

The school provided the several statements:

"Providing a high-quality education is our top priority, this includes exposing our students to historically sensitive topics thoughtfully and with care. The curriculum at our school goes through a rigorous review and approval process. School leaders are working diligently to improve our processes to ensure topics of this nature are handled with the utmost care and sensitivity.

"Due to student privacy laws, we are unable to share specific details. However, providing a safe and secure learning environment is one of our top priorities. Our schools continuously work to make improvements, ensuring our lesson plans are appropriate and inclusive of all students.

" -- Kelsey Pardue, National Heritage Academies"

“This assignment upset some students and their parents, for which we apologize. After we were made aware of this, we took several steps to address it, including making the decision to no longer use this assignment and will, instead, find other ways to support these two state standards.”

Students at a Canton school received this Black History Month assignment.
Students at a Canton school received this Black History Month assignment. (WDIV)
Students at a Canton school received this Black History Month assignment.
Students at a Canton school received this Black History Month assignment. (WDIV)

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