In the cell phone footage, which was sent to parents by a teacher, the kids fill sacks with cotton at the historic Carroll School, chanting lyrics like, “I like it when you fill the sack. I like it when you don’t talk back. Make money for me.”
Mom Jessica Blanchard, whose 10-year-old son Jamari attends Ebenezer Avenue Elementary in Rock Hill, told Fox 46 that she’s “livid” over the incident.
“I’m African-American and my ancestors picked cotton. Why would I want my son to pick cotton and think it’s fun?” she said. “I think it’s making a mockery of slavery. A mockery of what our people went through.”
A South Carolina mom says she's furious after fifth graders were told to pick cotton, sing slave song as a "game" to learn about the Great Depression. https://t.co/3TsXj1VSTD pic.twitter.com/XSzTRT1I2O
— FOX 46 Charlotte (@FOX46News) February 21, 2019
In the same interview, Jamari said that he and his classmates thought it was all just part of a game. “It was a contest,” he told the news station. “Whoever picked the least amount of cotton had to hold a big sack called ‘Big Mama.'”
The Rock Hill School District released a statement explaining that the cotton-picking was meant to be a teachable moment for students. “As part of the fifth-grade curriculum, students study the Great Depression time period, and this field trip helps students make real-life connections to this era in American history,” the district wrote.
According to Blanchard, the school system’s Chief Academic and Accountability Officer, Dr. John Jones, called her to apologize. And while she understands that the exercise was well-intentioned, she urges the district to do better.
The mom told Fox 46, “I support the Carroll School. I support everything else about it. But I don’t understand, at the end, why do you make it a point to pick cotton and sing those songs? I think it’s misguided, and maybe ignorance on their part.”