One Pittsford 4th grade lesson said slaves took 'trip' to America and 'agreed' to work |

One Pittsford 4th grade lesson said slaves took 'trip' to America and 'agreed' to work

Berkeley Brean
Updated: April 20, 2021 07:20 PM
Created: April 20, 2021 06:49 PM

PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WHEC) — Tuesday, the Pittsford Central School District pulled a worksheet the district says was used in one 4th grade class on one day in January.

The district shared a photo of the worksheet. It talks about the slaves' "trip to America" and that they "agreed" to work for colonialists.

Pittsford Superintendent Michael Pero says a parent alerted his office to this lesson plan Tuesday.

"The worksheet was in no way an accurate depiction of slavery during Colonial Times and was highly insensitive in tone," Pero said in a statement. "We immediately met with the staff members involved in this lesson and have taken steps to remedy the situation."

Let's take a closer look at what the 4th graders were asked to learn. 

Under the question "Why did slaves come to America" the fill-in-the-blank answer said, "as an exchange for a trip to America, African Americans agreed to work for colonialists... but were kept as slaves." 

And then the worksheet asks about the "jobs" slaves had. 

The Pittsford Central School District says the worksheet came from an online resource called "The Classroom Nook" which is not a district-approved resource.

We contacted Classroom Nook and shared the worksheet. 

In response, they said "The pictured worksheet does not accurately reflect any material available from The Classroom Nook. The picture shows a modified worksheet with fill-in-the-blank sections that are not part of the original resource. Additionally, the worksheet shown contains very old portions of a unit on colonial America. In working to improve the resource over the years, The Classroom Nook has replaced words like "jobs" with "tasks" and "come to America" with "brought to America" in an effort to more accurately represent this period in American history."

"That homework assignment, when I took a look at it, it jumped off the table at me and I thought 'Oh my gosh,'" Kevin Beckford said. 

Beckford is a parent in Pittsford and is the senior director of Anti-Racism Strategies and Community Engagement at the University of Rochester. 

Beckford says the district has made good changes including a diversity committee in the PTSA. But he says the root problem is a district with very few teachers and administrators who are black or Hispanic. 

"If you had a colleague that was African American that was next to that teacher would say, oh my gosh, where did you get that?" Beckford said. "Until we address that quite honestly we will continue to see these types of cultural insensitivities surface."

Pittsford schools said they're removing the worksheets from student notebooks. They're checking to see if they were used in any other school. They're going to re-teach the class and they're apologizing to the parents of the students.

A similar worksheet appears in a lesson in the Webster Central School District. 

Tuesday, the superintendent's spokeswoman wrote in an email, "The worksheet that you are referencing is similar to one that had been used in some of our classrooms two months ago. It was part of an elementary asynchronous assignment about life during colonial times, specifically regarding enslaved people. This worksheet was not part of the district's curriculum but was used as a supplemental resource from Classroom Nook. While teaching about enslaved people is part of the New York State Social Studies Standards, the way the assignment was presented did not provide students with an historically accurate understanding of the experiences of men, women, and children who were enslaved in our nation. The task in its original form created confusion for students and minimized the dehumanization that defines slavery. As soon as this was brought to our attention, immediate and ongoing actions were taken to address the situation. Teachers and administrators were in contact with parents and students and restorative practices were utilized to address their concerns."

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