A high school teacher from Pennsylvania has been suspended from work over an “unacceptable” assignment asking students to consider whether slavery was actually profitable, according to officials.
On Wednesday, the South Fayette Township School District announced it had suspended an unnamed social studies teacher after examining the contentious homework assignment, according to news station KDKA.
For part of the project, tenth-grade students were instructed to imagine themselves as retired captains in the British Navy and answer the question, “Is the slave trade profitable?”
“It was very uncomfortable because I was the only person of color in my class and I had to work with other white students,” a junior named Aliyah Emanuel, who had been assigned the thought exercise the year prior while attending the same teacher’s World Cultures class, reported to the outlet.
“I just thought it was a little weird since all the protests and 2020, how it was pretty hectic and overwhelming,” remarked tenth-grader Elijah Hill.
“It’s just shocking that my son had to sit in class and figure out the price that his ancestors were bought and sold for,” Elijah’s mother, Leigh Hill, said of the assignment.
The assignment challenged students to answer the question “if the trading of Africans can be profitable using either kind of ‘pack.’”
“One of the benefits of having a tight pack would be you would get more people over, but one of the disadvantages is a lot of people would die from sickness and all of that,” Aliyah commented. “We had to determine which would be more beneficial and which would make more money.”
“You’re trying to make my child pretend she’s a slave trader and how much is she worth?” wondered Sarah Emanuel, Aliyah’s mother. “How is that going to make a child of color feel?”
The mothers, Sarah Emanuel and Leigh Hill, say that the students should refuse to complete the schoolwork.
“Because being silent about it and brushing it under the rug like is always happening is not going to get anything solved,” stated mother Hill.
One student who was told to complete the homework assignment reported their misgivings to administrators, according to KDKA.
The district claims that they were oblivious to the project’s details.
“Once alerted to the existence of this assignment, the administration reviewed the assignment and met with the teacher,” the district wrote in a letter to parents. “After taking these steps it was determined that the assignment is inappropriate, offensive and unacceptable.”
“The assignment will no longer be used in any class and the teacher has been suspended. Further, we will engage in a systematic process to ensure that any other inappropriate assignments are identified and removed immediately.”
“We commend the student for speaking up about this assignment and apologize for the harm that this has caused. The voices of our young people are important and heard,” the letter concludes.
Some users on Twitter sympathized with the teacher, citing that the same project had been assigned in that class for at least ten years: “He shouldn’t be fired, he’s been assigning this for a decade. They are incompetent if they only figured it out now. Here’s what his former students have to say. Do better reporting KDKA. It’s not so simple.”
Another Twitter user pointed out: “The young lady featured in the story isn’t in the class currently. Was in it last year, but didn’t speak up until this year. Just curious why it took her this long to say she was offended ?”