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Whitney High ‘Roots’ Slavery Simulation Taped 8th Grader’s Hands, Laid Children on Floor of ‘Slave Ship’


By Brian Hews

Three teachers at Whitney High have been enveloped in controversy due to a simulated slavery ship enactment they intended to hold during their 8th grade class time.

Some people are extremely angry, while others, including many former stutdents, are defending the program.

The teachers sent an email Sept. 5 entitled a “Unique Learning Experience” informing parents of an upcoming exercise that would expose students to the horrors of slavery. The lesson would involve the teachers acting as “slave ship captains” and students as slaves.

The email read, “we will sternly tell them to line up outside the classroom, use masking tape to ‘tie’ their wrists together, make them lay on the ground inside the room shoulder to shoulder with each other (boys and girls are in separate rows), and then watch a clip from Roots.”

There was some issues about what tape the teachers used but HMG-CN was told it was masking tape, easily broken if the student wanted to release their hands, it was not duct tape.

The students were not going to be told, but some learned already from 9th grade students.

Whitney High mother Sharde Carrington was outraged and contacted  an online news outlet about the story.

Carrington told the outlet, “As the mother of a black child, I feared that my son’s participation would lead him to experience trauma, perhaps at the cellular level, and have a visceral reaction of anger and fear during the exercise itself.”

Derek Jeans Chair of the Social Studies Department at Whitney wrote Carrington attempting to explain the simulation and the positive impact it has on students.

“Thanks for reaching out to us and letting us know how you feel about this assignment. I brought this exercise to Whitney about 10 years ago, and have had almost universal appreciation for it in the way that we do not minimize the experience of slavery, but rather attempt in a very small manner, to bring a more personal understanding such a tragic and terrible events that occurred in our history.”

“This exercise is from a nationally recognized supplier of curriculum designed to bring experiences into the classrooms versus just discussions. This is not something we have added to our course of study lately. We take this day as one of the most important opportunities of letting the students try to experience a situation, that in times in the modern world, can seem distant and over discussed, but poorly understood.”

“While I agree with you that being black in this country currently is difficult for reasons that it should not be, I respectfully submit that this assignment is designed to immerse a student population that is not majority black, into the harrowing world that your ancestors suffered through so as to gain better insight into their plight, and hopefully come out with a stronger resolve to never allow something so heinous to ever occur again in this country. We would never want to traumatize your son, but I believe that in our current climate as a country we need to take a hard look at these times in our path, and we as a department, think that this is a very valid and appropriate way to bring history out of the textbook and into the lives of our kids.”

“The reflective essays that our students write about this activity, which is the homework that they must do after being a part of this exercise, would make you better understand the positive impact that it has on their understanding and caring for the poor souls that had to suffer through this terrible historical reality.”

“If you wish to talk more feel free to write back or if you would like to speak to me in person I would be more than happy to do that as well.”

Carrington did not allow her son to participate in the lesson.

Whitney said the department had been conducting the slavery lesson for 10 years, saying the exercise came from a nationally recognized supplier of curriculum.

ABCUSD Superintendent Dr. Mary Sieu told HMG-CN, “The WHS 8th grade history lesson is an experiential exercise that was developed many years ago by TCI and designed to enable students to understand what Africans experienced when they were enslaved. Parents were informed in advance of this exercise and given the opportunity to opt out if they were uncomfortable with it. Whitney HS Principal John Briquelet is fully aware of the feedback from the postings and have shared them with his history teachers. He recognizes that times have changed since these exercises were developed. He will be working with his teachers on Monday morning to discontinue this exercise in the future and look for more updated lessons in regards to the slave history.”

The goal was to immerse the largely non-black student population “into the harrowing world that your ancestors suffered through so as to gain better insight into their plight.”

Cerritos Mayor pro tem Mark Pulido told HMG-CN, “I am outraged, I had no idea, this must end.”

ABCUSD Trustee Area 3 candidate Daniel Fierro told HMG-CN, “This is outrageous and in complete opposition to the principles of inclusion and diversity that the Whitney family and the ABC Unified School District hold dear. Under no circumstances should students be restrained, especially without any forewarning or discussion to provide context. This mornjng I spoke to the President of the Board of Education as soon as I learned of the incident, and I look forward to the district rectifying the situation and improving its communication processes. This program has no place in our schools.”

Former Whitney students chimed in on social media.

“As a former student in this class, I’ll say this: those history lessons were all about immersive experiences. When we learned about the Boston Massacre, for example, we were assigned to play roles: prosecution, defense, witness, or jury, and argued the case in a “mock trial” exercise to cement our understanding of that pivotal event in our country’s history. When we learned about the slave trade, we were packed like sardines on the floor of the classroom for 30 minutes while watching the very accurate depiction from “Roots” of the reality of the slave trade, and all these years later, I still remember what I learned that day about what people experienced during the slave trade. Being uncomfortable lying there for 30 minutes gave us a marginally better insight to what being held in the hull of a slave ship for 3 months was like. Nobody was ever offended by this before, because it was understood that it was an effective, if unorthodox, teaching method, and that Mr Harp was an effective teacher.”


“I was a former Whitney high school student and I believe that the school would not be the same without this activity. The email truly makes this a tivity seem worse than it is because for me the worst part about it was having to sit on the hard floor. Most of the comments are from district employees who rarely ever see the impact of this activity in a real classroom setting and how the teachers approach it. I never felt as if I was threatened because the teachers constantly asked if the students were ok and were caring throughout the process. The teachers never used duck tape but rather masking tape which broke easily. This entire situation is a mother mad about what her son might face and that is completely ok but I feel that as a news organization you should get the viewpoints of other factors rather than just one viewpoint that seems to attack this teaching practice.”



  • sweep sailor says:

    OMG I was raised in a different era (late 1940s and early 1950s) and none that I know grew up to be serial killers nor KKK memebers. We needed NO examples of how slaves were transorted! We were told and saw photos, what more is needed? This crap is sheer ultra liberal bull crap foisted on unsuspecting students. What is next sharia law examples? Stop the BS and teach them stuff they need to survive in a very crazy liberal owned world.

  • Kalika says:

    It would be nice if the article was a bit more balanced ..
    this experimental learning experience was no way intended to undermine this part of our history that is no painful .. the parents were informed about this learning experience and my child certainly was deeply moved by their suffering . Many may not agree with this method of teaching but there is no doubt in my mind that the intent was to make sure that the kids understand this dark topic .

  • Benoj says:

    and next week’s lesson we will be simulating a gas chamber during the holocaust while watching Schindler’s List……