Wake County Schools

Mother's concern changes Wake schools curriculum on slavery

Posted February 3, 2014

— The Wake County Public School System has removed an assignment from its middle-school history curriculum after a Knightdale mother complained that it was racially insensitive.

Amaya Melvin's eighth-grade class at East Wake Middle School is studying the Civil War, and the students were given an essay assignment entitled "I am a slave."

"For her to have to put herself in the shoes of a slave, for her to complete the assignment, she had to be a slave at the moment. I didn't think that was appropriate," said Amaya's mother, Ariel Melvin-Hall, who is black. "It's harsh. It cuts deep."

Amaya called the assignment "kind of offensive."

Sheila Smith McKoy, an associate professor of English at North Carolina State University, said teaching about slavery is challenging with younger children.

"I'm also troubled by the fact it's entitled 'I am a slave,' as if an individual enslaved themselves, as if that's their whole identity," McKoy said.

She suggests schools take advantage of visiting local historical sites, such as Stagville Plantation in Durham, and that teachers receive some sensitivity training before tackling such subjects.

"It needs to be taught in the proper context, setting and conversation," she said.

After Melvin-Hall shared her concerns with her daughter's teacher and the school principal and after WRAL News called school district headquarters to ask about the assignment, it was pulled from the curriculum countywide.

"I think it's a great example of how a process works when we communicate with each other and take things seriously," Deputy Superintendent Cathy Moore said.

District officials routinely review the curriculum across the county and make changes as needed, Moore said.

Melvin-Hall said she believes the lessons learned from the canceled assignment will serve everyone well in the future.

"At least we're getting somewhere," she said. "I was heard, and my concerns taken seriously."


This story is closed for comments.

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  • finewine45 Feb 12, 2014

    A much over sensitive reaction by this parent , i'm surprised the school canceled the assignment.

  • Dnut Feb 5, 2014

    and since Jesus condoned slavery and it continues thousands of years later, what is your point? And this may be a difficult question, but what reason would someone who follows him have for being against it?
    (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22 & 4:1,Titus 2:9, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, 1 Peter 2:18, ...)
    >>>Folks, this is why you need to understand God's word, because someone like this, can step in and give you a FALSE teaching, and manipulate the truth of His word. These scriptures Do not condone slavery, they give you a human condition of that time, and what to do with yourself, your heart and faith if you were in those positions to Glorify Christ! Pray that the Spirit enters your heart to understand....not teach falsely!

  • randithistle2 Feb 4, 2014

    i don't get why the paper was called "i am a slave". why couldn't it be called "THE life of a slave" and write about any number of famous slaves and how they overcame those hardships and gained their freedom.

  • yankee17 Feb 4, 2014

    Wow. Only in Wake County. We cannot shelter our students from reality...unless we live in Wake County

  • randithistle2 Feb 4, 2014

    View quoted thread

    i would view a report called "i'm an child irish immigrant forced to work 14 hour days" just as derogatory.

  • ShastaDaisy Feb 4, 2014

    History is not a happy fairy tale. Children used to work in factories 12-14 hours a day. The Irish used to face job discrimination in the Northeast. The well-to-do were able to pay their way out of fighting in the Civil War. The U.S. Government was constantly "at war" with Native Americans until the Civil War. Our children learn very little of the truth because we are afraid of offending someone and because we think the truth may some how be "anti-American".

  • word636 Feb 4, 2014

    I think it's a brilliant project and more young African Americans should take part in it. if they understood the struggles and the difficulties that slaves had to go through just to be able to read and write, to get an education for their children and the struggles of keeping family contacts activity they may have a different outlook on education, family and society as a whole. If you forget our past you are doomed to repeat it. In this day in age our African American community is entangled in a self-slavery mind frame. Enslave themselves to poverty and violence and broken homes because they do not and can not understand the true value of the loss of something that is now concerned free that just a few centuries ago was the cost of a life.

    The only way it would have been truly offensive is if only the African American students were given this assignment. By the way, I'm an African American and proud of the slaves that came before me.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Feb 4, 2014

    @mafiamic said, “Slavery...happened...even in Jesus time.”

    Yes, exactly, and since Jesus condoned slavery and it continues thousands of years later, what is your point? And this may be a difficult question, but what reason would someone who follows him have for being against it?

    (Ephesians 6:5, Colossians 3:22 & 4:1,Titus 2:9, 1 Timothy 6:1-2, 1 Peter 2:18, ...)

  • patvant Feb 4, 2014

    I think this parent was being overly sensitive. What if the teacher said pretend you were a pilgrim, or native american. I think this approach to learning is good for students and ensures that they actually "get" what they are being taught. I hoe the mother has taught the child that she is not a slave, so what would the title bother her. Get over yourself woman.

  • Troysboys Feb 4, 2014

    I don't want my children to learn about evolution. If I complain to the school and the board, will they take that out of the curriculum? I do agree that they could have changed the assigment title, but to do away with it completely...?