By Matthew Young, RealWV
LEWISBURG, W.Va. – Eyebrows were raised last month among several parents of Lewisburg Elementary fourth graders, when a particularly questionable worksheet was given to students as a class assignment.
Part of a larger historical social studies lesson, the worksheet depicts a replica advertisement for the “sale of slaves,” along with four questions for students to answer based upon the advertisement. The questions range from asking students to explain the problems caused for slave families as the result of being sold, to requiring explanations as to why “a farmer would be selling so many slaves at once.”
According to Greenbrier County Superintendent of Schools Jeff Bryant, the worksheet comes from the Pearson Social Studies Series, particularly the supplemental curriculum “My West Virginia,” by Michelle Ceravalo. The book was published by Headline Books in 2017, and is intended for students in grades four through six.
Why was the worksheet assigned to fourth grade students?
“The fourth-grade standards, which are adopted by the legislature, cover slavery and its economic impact on the country,” Bryant told RealWV on Monday. “WVDE (West Virginia Department of Education) gives counties a list of approved curriculum materials from which to choose.”
Once selected from the approved list by the County Board of Education, Bryant further explained, curriculum is adopted on a six-year cycle. The Pearson Social Studies Series, including “My West Virginia,” was presented to and accepted by the board in 2019.
What does the worksheet depict?
Bryant noted that the worksheet includes “an image of a historical primary resource document, (which is) an advertisement for selling enslaved people.”
“The ad is from the John Wriston Coleman, Jr. Collection on Slavery in Kentucky,” Bryant added.
The collection is currently housed at the University of Kentucky, and available to researchers for further study.
In addition to the questions previously explained, the worksheet also asks students to explain the importance of the sale “order in which the slaves for sale are listed,” and, “Why would the description of a slave be important when selling a slave?”
School officials meet with parents.
On January 11, two concerned parents contacted Lewisburg Elementary School Principal Sara Bennett regarding the worksheet. After meeting with both parents and teachers, Bennett informed Bryant, Associate Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Nancy Hanna, and Director of Elementary Education Ann Smith of the concerns expressed.
“We all viewed the assignment,” Bryant said. “While we do not want to ignore history as there is a danger of repeating it, we acknowledged the sensitivity of the terminology used in the [worksheet] and understood why the parents found it offensive.”
Bryant said that the decision to discontinue use of the worksheet was made, adding that administrators “are actively seeking alternative resources for teaching this unit.”
A subsequent meeting between the concerned parents, Hanna and Bryant took place on Feb. 6. Bryant said the resolution to the situation, as well as the school’s approach to the curriculum moving forward, seemed to satisfy the parent’s concerns.
RealWV will provide any pertinent updates regarding this situation as additional information is made available.