Tina James says she was appalled and her daughter was offended and nearly in tears by the answers given by many of her Novi Middle School classmates to an essay question posed in a history class:
“Which would you rather be: A slave or a factory worker during the Industrial Revolution?”
“... She was just extremely confused by that, knowing what slaves went through,” James said. “She couldn’t understand why anyone would choose that.”
Their rationale was that slaves before and during America’s Civil War received free food and housing, and even protection.
“The first thing I thought was how can you even compare the two?” James said. “As far as I’m concerned, they are diametrically opposing circumstances. You have on one end, a slave that is not free, who has no free will. And on the other end, you have a factory worker and although it was in the Industrial Revolution, they still had a free choice and they had a choice to walk away if they wanted to.”
District Superintendent Steve told WWJ the essay test was based on Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations for Social Studies, in which eighth-grade students were asked to explain the differences in the lives of free blacks, including those who had escaped from slavery, and the lives of free enslaved people.
But he agreed the phrasing of the question was awkward and it will be pulled from future tests.
“The parent rightly pointed out that this was a question that really seemed to diminish the horrific effects of slavery, and I agreed,” Matthews told WWJ Newsradio 950. ”I think it was an attempt by the teachers at our middle school to try to have students understand the differences between free factory workers and slaves in the pre-Civil War era.
“But it clearly is a question that I don’t think helps students understand the depths of the suffering that the slaves endured back in the 1800′s. So, I decided that we needed to pull that question and try to approach that content expectation in another way.”
James says that after talking with others who share her concerns, she plans to further discuss the issue with the Novi school board.
“I have four kids that are in that school system and I have had issues in the past from a racial standpoint, and I’ve always addressed it,” she said. “I feel that it was an unfair question to begin with and I didn’t want anyone to have to endure the pain that my daughter had to endure when she was asked to write this essay. We have children that have impressionable minds and I want to make sure that the impressions that we leave on them are accurate and truthful and honest.”