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‘Slave Ship’ role-playing activity outrages some parents

Slave role-playing controversy in Howard County, Indiana

Sierra Hignite | News 8 at 6 p.m.

RUSSIAVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — Some parents in one Howard County school district said they were in shock after they received a letter that their middle schoolers were to participate in a role-playing activity where they would act like slaves.

Western Middle School said students have participated in this activity for the last six years, and this year is the first time parents have reached out with concerns.

The activity is called “Slave Ship,” and students are treated like slaves who have been kidnapped, which occurred from the early 1500s to the mid-19th century.

Parents received a letter detailing the role-playing. The letter says the lesson is designed to be uncomfortable and that the teacher hopes that it creates empathy for others’ heritage and the struggles that they have gone through.

“For them to re-create something that was so devastating and so heartbreaking, it just blew me,” parent Angelicia Hamilton said.

The letter also says students who are role-playing may endure raised voices, loosely bound wrists, threats and hateful speech but will not hear the “N-word.”

“It is 2019. How can you ask a child to be humble about pretending to be a slave?” parent Tawayi Wilson said.

Hamilton added, “Especially for a black child to kneel down and you get yelled at like that.”

Some parents are shocked that the school would allow such a lesson with role-playing that goes too far. Wilson said, “What are the repercussions that are going to come after the play? The next day, you are going to have white kids yelling, saying things, maybe not the N-word but saying things that are going to upset African-American students.”

“So, what are we going to do next? Act out the Holocaust,” Wilson said.

After hearing parents concerns, a follow-up email was sent by the teacher stating that the role-playing portion of the lesson would be canceled.

“I do agree that it is very important to learn all aspects of history but I also believe there are different ways that you can do that without reenactment,” Wilson said.


“Mr. Pax is a creative teacher who works hard to develop lessons that engage his students so they can apply what they have learned to real life experiences. The purpose of his activity, ‘Slave Ship’ was not to offend or dehumanize anyone, but to create empathy and compassion, and to show a glimpse of the harsh reality of slavery.

“Mr. Pax has been doing this activity for the past six to seven years without any concerns expressed. The feedback from his students has been that it was a meaningful activity that helped them to think about the injustices that occurred. However, based on the concerns expressed this year, Mr. Pax will modify the lesson to cover the content and academic standards without the role play.”

Western School District Superintendent Randy McCracken