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This article unfurls in the aftermath of an event where three first grade children at a reputable progressive elementary school were found playing slavery during school recess. As word caught on, parents ignited into a frenzy: some railed against the teacher, others demanded an answer, while still others believed this was precisely the meaning of progressive schooling. In swift response, school administrators sent a conciliatory email apologizing for their misjudgment. Slavery, they declared, was too difficult a topic and developmentally inappropriate for such a young age. Guided by critical childhood studies and concepts of difficult knowledge, this reflective article explores how adults drew from developmental frameworks and used children as proxies to protect themselves from the complicated conversation of race and slavery. It unpacks this event through three entry points: encountering difficult knowledge in primary school; the moralization of child development; and the ongoing work inherent to social justice-oriented schooling. It is hoped that readers can take this example into their own teacher education programs and school faculty meetings to query how adults can open up spaces for critical encounters rather than launch accusations when faced with the emotional charge of oppressive histories.


This article was originally published in Multicultural Perspectives, available at DOI: 10.1080/15210960.2020.1741369.

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