Southeastern PA

North Penn School District pulls online game for slavery content

LANSDALE, Pa. - Shanekah Tann and her mother-in-law Maybelle Smith were floored when they caught wind of a website being used to teach fifth graders about slavery in the North Penn School District.

"It made my skin crawl," Tann said.

The game "Flight to Freedom" is on the website Mission US.

According to a district statement, it's used in classrooms around the country for "students to learn about the difficulties encountered by slaves as they tried to escape the South."

Though not part of official curriculum, the game was being used in several classrooms, including Tann's son's at Knapp Elementary.  The district said it will no longer be used due to recent complaints, adding in a statement, that it was used in years prior without issue.

In the game, a slave master can be heard saying "You girl. You finished your morning work…you're about the laziest negro on this side of the river."

"If you take too long the slave master comes out and starts to use vulgar language, you get in trouble, if you choose the right answer you get a badge, there were no badges in slavery," Tann said.

Tann said her son was angry about the game. She feels the game has the potential to promote violence because it evokes strong emotions. 

"If it's going to make him feel that he wants to go outside and hurt someone, that's teaching him violence, and that's traumatic," Tann said. "Once the video came into my home and he's seen it, the damage is already done. I don't want my son talking like that."

Tann and Smith also thought it was inappropriate and too heavy for elementary children.

"These children have no business looking at that right now. Wait until they're older," Smith said.

"It's making them relive slavery. My ancestors already went through slavery," Tann said.

Tann and Smith tell 69 News they want slavery talked about in school, but they feel that books and conversation can take care of those lessons.

The site where the game is posted is partly funded by the U.S. Department of Education and The Public Broadcasting Publication.

Also in the game, the slave master can be heard saying, "make sure you lock it up when you're done. Don't want no slave stealing meat."

Tann feels that it negatively reflects on slaves.

"When you are teaching kids 'slaves steal, slaves steal, slaves steal,' kids are receptive to anything, they may tease a kid and say 'you're a thief,'" Tann said.

Tann told 69 News the game was first introduced by a black teacher in the district. The district confirmed.

"Oh, the black teacher used it, just because she was black doesn't make it right," Tann said.

Here is the district's statement in full:

Over the past few days, the North Penn School District has been made aware of a website being used in two fifth grade classrooms that has raised concerns among some parents. The website, Mission US, and more specifically the game "Flight to Freedom" has been used for several years without issue, however, more recently concerns about the content have emerged.

"Flight to Freedom," is a game for students to learn about the difficulties encountered by slaves as they tried to escape the South.

It is part of a website called Mission US that offers a variety of simulation games set in different eras of US history. The free website is funded by various institutions including the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the US Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

The website is used by educational institutions across the country in combination with classroom discussions surrounding the issue being addressed. However, after learning that parents have expressed objection to some of the content in Flight to Freedom, it will no longer be used in North Penn schools. Other resources that do not involve simulation games will be used in classrooms when learning about historical and cultural events.

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