What in the what is going on? A slavery simulation game in the classroom? This is not cool at all. Read the story below.
(Via USA TODAY)
Phoenix Elementary district spokeswoman Sara Bresnahan said the district was unsure how the Flight to Freedom simulation made its way into the classroom and blocked access to Mission US on Tuesday.
She said the district’s “pacing guide,” an online repository of instructional tools made available to teachers, did not include that mission. The guide did include the City of Immigrants mission, which involves a 14-year-old Jewish girl immigrating to New York from Russia in 1907.
Bresnahan said she agreed with parents' concerns and was taking the issue "to district administration to be reviewed quickly.”
It was not immediately clear how many students had played Flight to Freedom. Bresnahan said the district knew of only one seventh-grade classroom that had used the simulation and was checking whether other teachers in the district’s 13 elementary schools had used it as well.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Humanities provided funding for the development of Mission US, which earned nearly 20 awards and honors after its 2010 launch. The creators also provided supplementary materials for teachers who use the game in class.
The Flight to Freedom simulation debuted in 2012.
Though the creators of Mission US did not immediately respond to requests for comment, their online summary of the game says it "immerses players in rich, historical settings" and "empowers them to make choices that illuminate how ordinary people experienced the past."
The use of "Mission US: Flight to Freedom" in a Phoenix Elementary School District social studies class has angered parents who feel it is racist and trivializes the topic of slavery. (Photo: Snow Castle)
The simulations help students "develop a more personal, memorable, and meaningful connection with complex historical content," it says.
Several educators, students and gamers have offered glowing reviews of the program.
Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based non-profit that recommends digital tools for classroom use, called the Flight to Freedom mission "a powerful and compelling simulation about one girl's attempt to flee slavery and reach freedom."
A 2012 review published by USA TODAY gave the simulation four out of four stars. The reviewer said the mission's "branching storylines … are brilliant in their diversity and ingenious in how they weave together to create the fascinating story path of this game."
The Arizona Republic is part of the USA TODAY NETWORK.
'Slavery wasn't fun'
Phoenix parents such as Brooks, however — along with teachers and tech specialists from elsewhere who have criticized the game in recent years — feel the Flight to Freedom simulation downplays hundreds of years of suffering.
For instance, one decision in the simulation results in a screen that says, "You and Henry are beaten, locked up and sold south the next week," before asking whether students want to play again.
"It doesn't make sense for any educator with a clear understanding of what's going on in society ... to think that anything like this would be appropriate for a bunch of elementary-schoolers," Brooks said. "I don't think they're mature enough to be using this program. My wife and I were really concerned about the violence."
Neal Lester, an Arizona State University professor and expert in African-American literature, said simulations can be effective teaching tools for certain topics — but not this one.
"I just think it's a horrible idea to move slavery into the realm of gaming," he said. "Why does it have to be fun? Slavery wasn't fun."
Lester argued "there's no need to pretend" when "slave narratives, original slave travel logs and other documents have been modified and edited for age-appropriate groups."
JJ Johnson, vice chairman of Black Lives Matter-Phoenix, found out about the Flight to Freedom simulation from parents late last week. He met with district officials Tuesday to urge its removal.
“I just think it's a horrible idea to move slavery into the realm of gaming. Why does it have to be fun? Slavery wasn't fun.”
Neal Lester, Arizona State University professor
He also had concerns about access to a separate mission, A Cheyenne Odyssey, where students take on the role of a Native American boy fighting to save his tribe.
"The dangerous thing about this stuff is that there's no one to help these kids process these really complex messages," Johnson said.
"I really am optimistic that we can make some changes with the district, because they seemed receptive," he said. "But it still doesn't explain to me how something so racist and sexist could've been used and nobody said anything."
Bresnahan said the district appreciated Tuesday's meeting with Johnson and others, because it provided "a great opportunity for us to learn."
“Equity, restorative justice and cultural competency are key to our strategic planning," she said. "Our governing board and administration have numerous initiatives underway on these topics to increase our awareness, understanding and education."