Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

Virginia 4th Grade Teacher Holds Mock Slave Auction

I’m sure Norfolk, Virginia elementary school teacher Jessica Boyle was just trying to bring history to life in a decidedly unorthodox manner. But when she turned her fourth grade class at Sewells Point Elementary School into a slave auction, Boyle inadvertently sparked outrage among Norfolk’s black community.

According to the Washington Post, Boyle split her class, which is about 40% black and 40% white, into groups based on students’ race. The white students then took turns buying the blacks.

It wasn’t long before parents started complaining. Sewells Point principal Mary B. Wrushen wrote to them, agreeing that Boyle had gone too far. “The lesson could have been thought through more carefully, as to not offend her students or put them in an uncomfortable situation,” Wrushen wrote.

This month is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the US Civil War, still a touchy subject in the South. The issue of slavery is even more sensitive. Sewells Point Elementary is named after a Civil War battle that took place within sight of the school.

Norfolk schools have been raising eyebrows and hackles lately. Last July, a fifth grade teacher at Jacox Elementary School was fired after it was revealed she anointed students with “holy oil.” At nearby Oakwood Elementary School, principal Sheila Tillett Holas led students and teachers in unconstitutional prayer before exams, with several teachers claiming the principal pressured them into attending prayer or Bible sessions before school. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Holas was placed on administrative leave after giving life-like fetus dolls to third, fourth and fifth grade students in a blatant pro-life exercise.


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  1. Betty FokkerApril 13, 2011 at 7:30 amReply

    I think she just wanted the students to know how horrible such auctions were … but she should have warned the parents and made sure everyone had a “turn” as the buyer and the slave. Good idea, poor execution.

  2. John SmithApril 15, 2011 at 12:16 pmReply

    points for accuracy but it would have been more accurate to have divided the black student into two teams. then one team would capture the other team and sell that team to the white owners. then they could have the auction.

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