Wake County Schools

Mother's concern changes Wake schools curriculum on slavery

Posted February 3, 2014 4:13 p.m. EST
Updated February 3, 2014 6:27 p.m. EST

— 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."