Wisconsin Teachers Furloughed After Asking Students How To ‘Punish’ Slaves

“This slave has disrespected his master by telling him, ‘You are not my master!’ How will you punish this slave?”
Pupils use tablets during courses in a classroom at the Leonard de Vinci 'connected' middle school in Saint-Brieuc, western France on September 12, 2013. The Leonard de Vinci school is one of the 23 middle schools in France to be connected to the internet and to be using new information technologies during courses. AFP
Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images

A Wisconsin middle school placed a “small group” of teachers on leave after they purchased and distributed a lesson plan that asked 11-year-olds how they would punish slaves. 

On the first day of Black History Month, sixth-graders at Patrick Marsh Middle School were asked how they would punish a disobedient slave during an online assignment. According to a screenshot of the classwork obtained by Newsweek, students were asked to describe how they would punish a slave that said, “You are not my master.” 

“A slave stands before you,” the scenario reads. “This slave has disrespected his master by telling him, ‘You are not my master!’ How will you punish this slave?” The assignment provides a box for students to detail their answers. 

Sun Prairie Area School District claimed that the intent of the assignment was to address the historical injustices of ancient laws. 

Below the question and answer section was a box that stated under the Code of Hammurabi, a set of ancient Mesopotamian laws, the slave would have been put to death.

In a statement from the district to parents, Principal Rebecca Zahnand and Associate Principal Amy Schernecker said the assignment “hurt [the] African American community,” though its intent was to learn about Mesopotamia. 

“The purpose of the activity was to help students understand how order was kept in the early civilization, how the laws that were developed, and how unjust they were,” the statement reads. “One of the scenarios posed was directly related to the treatment of slaves in Mesopotamia … this assignment hurt our African American community.”

In a separate statement to parents, the district confirmed that it had placed the educators who taught the assignment on a leave of absence and would conduct an investigation. 

“A small group of our teachers developed and used an activity that was neither racially conscious nor aligned to our district mission, vision, values, curriculum, or district equity statement,” the statement reads

“Once we learned of this activity, we immediately stopped any further teaching of the lesson and promptly began an investigation.” The district proceeded to tell students that they should not participate nor complete the assignment. 

The school district obtained the lesson plan from a website called Teachers Pay Teachers. The site allows educators to buy and sell original education materials, including lesson plans. The lesson on slavery in Mesopotamia cost the district four dollars. 

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, Sun Prairie Area School District is now demanding an apology from Teachers Pay Teachers. 

“We have reached out to the organization Teachers Pay Teachers demanding the removal of this racist activity and a public apology for originating and monetizing it,” the district said. 

Teachers Pay Teachers has since taken down the material and issued an apology, though not directly to the middle school or district. 

“As soon as we were made aware of this resource, we immediately removed it from the site,” a spokesperson for the website said. “We will continue to listen to our community and partner with experts in the field to continuously improve and ensure material on [Teachers Pay Teachers is] appropriate, representative, and accurate.”

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