Purvis Middle School in Mississippi.
  • A Mississippi middle school writing assignment on slavery is drawing criticism online.
  • A teacher asked students to pretend to be slaves writing to their family in Africa.
  • The school's principal apologised to parents.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

A screenshot of a Mississippi middle school writing assignment on slavery has drawn heavy criticism online, with many saying the exercise trivialised the racist institution.

The assignment in question was at the end of the slideshow presentation on the "atrocities and negatives of slavery" given on Wednesday to a class of eighth graders at Purvis Middle School, Lamar County School Superintendent Steven Hampton confirmed to WDAM

Students were asked to "pretend like you are a slave working on a Mississippi plantation" and "write a letter to your family back in Africa or in another American state describing your life," according to the screenshot of the assignment that was posted online.

"You may discuss the journey to America, as well as the day-to-day tasks you perform," the assignment continued. "You may also want to tell about the family you live with/work for and how you pass your time when you aren't working."

The assignment was widely panned online, with critics saying it ignores many of the facts of slavery, like slaves having free time to write letters, or being able to read or write in the first place. 

"Talk about trivializing slavery," one person tweeted. "'Family you work for?' You mean, the master who forces you to work? The 'family' using threats of violence to keep you in line?! So on your day off (never happened) were you whipped? Raped? Beaten? This isn't a letter from summer camp, people!"

Another Twitter usertook issue with referring to the slave masters as "the family you live with/work for," saying: "It diminishes what slavery actually was and compares it to housekeeping."

Frank Bunnell, the principal of Purvis Middle School, has since apologized to parents for "something like this happening under my watch," according to a copy of the email obtained by The Daily Beast, which confirmed its authenticity with the school. 

Bunnell said the slide was taken out of context. "A person could read just the assignment and draw a very unrealistic view of the true tragedies that occurred. That was not intended," Bunnell said in the email obtained by The Daily Beast. 

"However, intent does not excuse anything. There is no excuse to downplay a practice that (even after abolished) spurs unjust laws, unfair economic practices, inhumane treatment, and suppression of a people."

Hampton, the school's superintendent, said the assignment's purpose was "to show our students just how horrible slavery was and to gain empathy for what it was like to be a slave." 

"We do not discriminate against race. We want to be sensitive to what happened in the past," Hampton said.

Hampton said the issue has been addressed with the teacher who gave the assignment and that there will be no further discussion with the teacher at the district level. 

The Daily Beast reported that Purvis Middle School has a more white student body than the state at large. While Black students make up more than 50% of the student body state-wide, Purvis is just over 12% Black and more than 80% white, The Daily Beast reported.

"This is Klan territory," Jeremy Marquell Bridges, social media manager for Black Lives Matter Mississippi, told The Daily Beast.

How to teach slavery has become a hot-button issue in recent years, with other teachers across the country criticized for similar assignments. 

A teacher in Delaware recently came under scrutiny for using yoga to teach slavery. 

Teachers at a Wisconsin middle school were put on administrative leave last month after giving students an assignment asking sixth graders how they would "punish" a slave.

Another teacher in Missouri was placed on leave in 2019 for asking fifth graders to set a "price for a slave" in a worksheet on the colonial trade. 

Receive a daily news update on your cellphone. Or get the best of our site emailed to you

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.