An epic look at modern slavery
There are more slaves in the world today than when Romans trained gladiators to fight in their arenas, when industrialists in the American south fought a war to keep their African American slaves, or at any other time in the history of the planet.
That is the topic explored by this year’s epic project in the Comparative Civilizations class Mark Beale teaches at Maple Ridge secondary.
The annual epic takes over an entire classroom, creating a labyrinth that winds through 22 scenes from slavery in the world today.
There are displays depicting forced labour, begging syndicates, prostitution, organ removal and other examples, and at each one a student guide offers an explanation of what the viewer is seeing.
It’s typical of the Comparative Civilizations epics – built by students to explore a topic in an in-depth way.
“It’s a different way for kids to show what they know, as opposed to reading a book and writing an essay,” said teacher Mark Beale.
“It builds on the idea of developing social responsibility in students,” he said. “It’s a huge learning outcome in the curriculum.”
The students began their research in September, and found 50 different examples of modern slavery. They pared that down to 22 examples that could be built into their epic. Then they built the displays using paper mache, props, paint and a lot of creativity.
Given the subject matter, the displays are graphic and “blood” splatter abounds.
“It’s very serious, it’s very graphic, it’s no joke,” Beale warns classes before they enter.
MRSS student Amy Balaban explains her scene – a nanny ironing clothes while holding a baby. It comes from a real account by an African girl who was promised and education and a better life in Paris, but became an unpaid servant to the family that brought her there, subject to severe beatings and not allowed to leave the home.
And the students are conversant with the entire epic, so she is the guide at a display depicting a sex trade worker who is having a baby in a back room. The baby will be taken by human traffickers.
Balaban has enjoyed being involved with the epic.
“It’s amazing – it gives you a wider view of what’s happening in the world, and then we share it with the younger grades,” she said.
Balaban said many senior students try to get into one of the four Comparative Civilizations classes, but it is so in-demand that generally only grads manage to secure a spot.
The entire school will tour the epic, and parents were invited to two evening showings.
The epic will be dismantled today.
Notes Beale: “It takes a month to put up, and an hour and a half to tear it down.”