By Cash Michaels –
How did school officials allow a fourth-grade teacher to employ a controversial and highly sensitive board game in her classroom?
The New Hanover County Public School System is investigating a disturbing complaint about a “Monopoly-like role-playing slavery board game” being used to “teach” children at Codington Elementary School in Wilmington earlier this year.
The game in question is called “Escaping Slavery,” and according to materials that come with the game, most notably a “Freedom Punch Card,” students assume the role of runaway slaves during the Underground Railroad, and are told on the card, “If your group runs into trouble four times, you will be severely punished and sent back to the plantation to work as a slave. Write your name on the back of this card.”
Among the materials with the game were illustrations of shackles and black slave families.
Codington Elementary is a majority white school, the only one thus far determined to have employed use of the slavery game in North Carolina.
There are reports of other slavery-type games that have been used in other schools systems. One in Loudoun County, Virginia in February caused a firestorm among parents and the local NAACP, resulting in an apology from the principal.
Thus far in Wilmington, the principal, who at first defended use of the slavery game, has not apologized personally, only saying that he agrees with the school board’s mea culpa.
It was an outraged African American grandmother who went to a local Wilmington television station complaining that her granddaughter in her fourth-grade class at Codington Elementary was subjected to the “slavery game.” She said having black children, in particular, learn about what is still an extremely “painful” part of their heritage was horrifying.
“Slavery is not a game,” she said, adding that she did not complain to Codington Elementary’s Principal Graham Elmore because she feared retaliation against her granddaughter.
Elmore, when contacted by the WECT-TV by email, responded, “That fourth grade social studies teachers used the “Monopoly-like game” in January, and said that at that point the school had received “no complaints” from any parents. The game, copyrighted by a company called “Wise Guys,” was obtained from the website “Teachers Pay Teachers.”
According to the station, the principal wrote that “The purpose was to play a role to increase interest and enthusiasm for historical events. The teachers wanted to share how the people communicated and worked for change and equality in their communities.”
After WECT-TV aired its story, it was picked up by newspapers and TV stations across the country, and the controversy quickly engulfed the New Hanover community.
“[The board] shares the community’s concern over the Black History lesson at Codington Elementary School,” read a statement from school Board Chair Lisa Estep. “We understand the stated purpose of the lesson, but we do not believe the strategy of using this game to teach historical facts about a topic as sensitive and painful as slavery was appropriate.” Estep’s statement also announced that system principals will undergo “cultural competency” training to deal with “implicit bias.”
School Superintendent Tim Markley was assigned to investigate and report back to the board.
The New Hanover NAACP, in a statement, said that the slavery game “…is a reflection of how the New Hanover School system allows institutional racism to thrive in our children’s classrooms.”
The New Hanover County NAACP called for a timeline of when the implicit bias and cultural competency training will be implemented. The Chapter also requested that representatives of the African American community be involved in the selection of the entity that will do the training.
There was no indication that there will be any disciplinary action against either the principal or the teachers involved in approving an activity that even the school board chair admitted was not “appropriate.”