February 26, 2019
A field trip activity involving cotton picking and singing of “slave song” offends parents of fifth-grade students in Rock Hill School, South Carolina.
As part of an alternative learning program, Rock Hill Schools and The Carroll School have been working together for fifteen years by giving students a chance to immerse themselves in African American history during the Great Depression.
However, after seeing a video of the children picking cotton and chanting a ‘slave song’ taken by their school teacher, Jessica Blanchard felt the school went too far. In tears, she told reporters,
“I’m African American, and my ancestors picked cotton. Why would I want my son to pick cotton and think it’s fun?”
The children were made to pick cotton for around ten minutes and taught a song that was commonly sung by the slaves during that time.
Another parent, Erica Populus, whose daughter attended the same field trip in September said,
"When I saw the video my jaw dropped. I immediately was frustrated, offended and was like, 'Wow, this is what my baby was doing?'"
For his part, York County Councilman William "Bump" Roddey, felt that the activity took the history of slavery too lightly. His son went on the field trip last year. He shared,
"Had I known that the picking cotton would be in conjunction with singing these songs, my wife and I would have probably never entertained him going on this field trip. When you see the video, you hear the songs being sung, you see the kids picking cotton, you can't now separate your mindset that this is a slave reenactment.”
The permission slip listed the activities such as “sewing, planting a garden, picking cotton and food preservation” but it did not include learning ‘slave songs.’
The Rock Hills School issued a statement promising to stay “committed to listening to its parents and community stakeholders.”
They explained that the song on the video was written by an African-American instructor at The Carroll School.
"He did not intend it to sound like, or in any way be a “slave song” as it has been characterized."
A video was also shared to expound on the purpose of The Carroll School and its programs.
They said they will make sure it is understood that "in no way" is any activity or song tied to slavery.
The issue divided the parents and the school administration and sparked many debates in the Education sector.
Margaret Gillikin, social studies education director at Winthrop University, weighed in saying,
“We can’t fully replicate the experiences of people in the past. These are important activities for our students to be involved in, field trips like this. It helps students see that real people lived and experienced history, but I do think we need to be really careful using simulations.”
But her message also includes praising the intentions of the program and says that she “hopes the incident does not discourage teachers from being creative in their lessons.”