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‘Slave or Factory Worker’? Mom Gets Essay Question Stricken

Tina James says a majority of Novi Middle School wrote they’d rather be slaves with “free” food and housing – a conclusion James and her daughter say illustrates a lack of understanding that slaves had neither freedom nor free will.

Novi Middle School students will no longer be asked to write an essay on whether they would rather be slaves or factory workers during the Industrial Revolution. (Patch file photo)
Novi Middle School students will no longer be asked to write an essay on whether they would rather be slaves or factory workers during the Industrial Revolution. (Patch file photo)

Tina James says she was appalled and her daughter was offended and nearly in tears by the answers given by many of her Novi Middle School classmates to an essay question posed in a history class:

“Which would you rather be: A slave or a factory worker during the Industrial Revolution?”

James told WWJ that a “majority of the class thought they would rather be a slave than a factory worker.

“... She was just extremely confused by that, knowing what slaves went through,” James said. “She couldn’t understand why anyone would choose that.”

Their rationale was that slaves before and during America’s Civil War received free food and housing, and even protection.

“The first thing I thought was how can you even compare the two?” James said. “As far as I’m concerned, they are diametrically opposing circumstances. You have on one end, a slave that is not free, who has no free will. And on the other end, you have a factory worker and although it was in the Industrial Revolution, they still had a free choice and they had a choice to walk away if they wanted to.”

District Superintendent Steve told WWJ the essay test was based on Michigan Grade Level Content Expectations for Social Studies, in which eighth-grade students were asked to explain the differences in the lives of free blacks, including those who had escaped from slavery, and the lives of free enslaved people.

But he agreed the phrasing of the question was awkward and it will be pulled from future tests.

“The parent rightly pointed out that this was a question that really seemed to diminish the horrific effects of slavery, and I agreed,” Matthews told WWJ Newsradio 950. ”I think it was an attempt by the teachers at our middle school to try to have students understand the differences between free factory workers and slaves in the pre-Civil War era.

“But it clearly is a question that I don’t think helps students understand the depths of the suffering that the slaves endured back in the 1800′s. So, I decided that we needed to pull that question and try to approach that content expectation in another way.”

James says that after talking with others who share her concerns, she plans to further discuss the issue with the Novi school board.

“I have four kids that are in that school system and I have had issues in the past from a racial standpoint, and I’ve always addressed it,” she said. “I feel that it was an unfair question to begin with and I didn’t want anyone to have to endure the pain that my daughter had to endure when she was asked to write this essay. We have children that have impressionable minds and I want to make sure that the impressions that we leave on them are accurate and truthful and honest.”


Possum March 15, 2014 at 02:25 PM
Mr Rogers - "the plantation owners regarded their slaves as property, and took good care of them, just like farmers take care of their expensive farm implements today". Right, except for farmers today don't seem to rape their expensive farm implements at their will, sell the children of their expensive farm implements or horse whip their expensive farm machinery for not working seven days a week sunup to sundown, let a lone thinking of escaping. Beyond that, I'd bet it was just a grand life for the slaves.
Mr Rogers March 15, 2014 at 10:43 PM
Well, back to the initial plantation slave v industrial slave question. As immoral and represensible the institution of slavery was, the fact was that the plantation owners regarded their slaves as property, and took good care of them, just like farmers take care of their expensive farm implements today, or people take care of their "stuff". They fed them, clothed them, took care of them when they were sick, etc. For the workers in the industrial shops, it was quite a different story. They were not regarded as an asset, but rather an expendable cog in a wheel that had to be tolerated, and could be replaced at any time for any reason - something to use and discard when it was used up. And back in those days, when a worker lost his job, there was no Social Security or unemployment insurance to fall back on. They were reduced to either begging or eating garbage for their survival. So, in a sense, they were not all that "free" either. In fact, white males that did not own property were not allowed to vote in all states until North Carolina finally waived that requirement in 1856. So, botom line - I think it was a good question to ask the kids, and made them think for themselves a little bit. Thinking is a good thing. More people ought to try it once in a while. Especially our illustrious political leaders.
Greg Thrasher March 16, 2014 at 05:19 PM
The depth of denial , deflection and ignorance regarding the domestic holocaust ( slavery) in our nation is stunning... This degree of underdevelopment continues to harm our nation and our ideals ... This ignorance creates racial angst and imperils civic harmony and civility between racial groups in on nation... Reading these comments are scary from my perspective as an American...
Racer Boy March 17, 2014 at 04:57 PM
Lincoln ended slavery. Who is going to end skyrocketing birth rates to unwed mothers, entire lives spent on Government assistance, filthy and degrading lyrics in RAP music, disgusting music videos, pants hanging below buttocks, thinking twirking is cool, speaking a language that is unintelligible??? None of that works to create a decent and caring society.
Possum March 17, 2014 at 07:57 PM
Racer Boy, cut down on the Bill O'Reilley watching for awhile and try to get out a little more into the real world. The echo chamber will damage your mind.

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