Riley's Farm: We Don't Put Nooses Over Children's Heads

"There is simply no way to conduct a living history teaching experience without using the clothing and props of the era."

Patch file photo.
Patch file photo.
Originally published 9:38 a.m. May 8, 2014. Edited with new details.

A note from Benita Fawcett Riley
 of Riley's Farm in Yucaipa, in regards to the controversy over an African-American boy from Oxford Preparatory Academy who was selected by his teacher to demonstrate a noose. 

1. In this program, students circulate through various dramatic workshops, featuring the cultural, political, and military life of the Civil War period. These include marching and drill, a civil war surgery discussion, Victorian etiquette, a secession debate, a military court martial, and others.

2. During the Civil War era, soldiers who deserted from the army could face the penalty of a firing squad or a hanging. The station, in question, is ONLY about military discipline.

3. At the court martial station, a living historian dressed as a soldier asks the teacher or parental group leader to pick children to participate who like drama and who can speak before a group of people.

4. In this scenario, the living historian holds a noose as a prop. It is NEVER put over a child's head. In every scenario the student is found "guilty" and then pardoned. 

5. During this particular scenario, the child kept trying to put the noose over his head, and our living historian stopped the student from doing so.

6. The parent making the complaint was not present at the time and never approached us regarding the incident and chose, instead, to take the story to the media. 

7. We understand, of course, that certain images (the Confederate States flag and uniform, for example) can be seen as offensive to some groups. However, there is simply no way to conduct a living history teaching experience without using the clothing and props of the era.

8. Our extended family has been conducting living history field trips in Oak Glen since 1986. We currently see between 50 and 60,000 students a year. In all that time, with our tour count reaching nearly a million students, we have never had a complaint of this sort."

To clarify, our living historian dressed as a soldier asked the teacher to pick a child to participate who likes drama and who can speak before a group of people. The teacher does not nessasarily know what the penalty for desertion is. After a ten to fifteen minute discussion the penalty for desertion is presented this is when the student ATTEMPTED to put the noose on his head but the living historian did not allow it to be put around his neck.
ChristieD May 13, 2014 at 12:28 PM
It is also my understanding that there is frequent mixing of religion and education there at Oxford. The "word" is that many parents who are from the religious right are influencing many aspects of the school and it's teaching. If this is correct, then Oxford should lose it's accreditation.
ChristieD May 13, 2014 at 12:28 PM
It would be great to hear from the above participants to hear their "take" on this issue.
Capo Parent May 13, 2014 at 03:53 PM
ChristieD What is your understanding based on, rumors, innuendo, making BS up? Until you can cite specific examples, why should anyone try to prove your rumors are nothing more then rumors?
ChristieD May 13, 2014 at 10:08 PM
Good point capo parent. This whole article is actually based on "he said she said" at least at this point. I have asked because I received this information from a parent whose child left the school for this reason. So it is indeed not first hand knowledge. This is why I Am looking for either other validation or denial. The only quote given on a link to the school cited "what a God-send the school was." Perhaps the school might have picked another "quote," but alas, they did not. So again, a weigh in on this issue would be helpful...and if it's not true there is nothing to be worried about.
Elizabeth K May 28, 2014 at 05:43 PM
I don't understand how the teacher was an "idiot" for choosing this child. She went to a rotation on soldiers who deserted the army. She was asked to pick a student who can speak in front of people. The teacher chooses a student that meets the qualifications. If the teacher had said "I can't pick that student because they are black for this particular role," wouldn't that have been racially profiling the student? She picked a student who was well spoken and whom she thought would do a good job in this role. She had faith in this student, giving him an opportunity to participate in this activity because he met the qualifications. If she had NOT chosen him because he was black, that would have been wrong. I've been to Riley's farm before. The teacher is usually given the title of the rotation (and sometimes the title is vague) and at the beginning the docent might ask the teacher for students to play a role that may involves speaking in front of the group. The students that are called should be students who are well spoken and eager to act in front of the group. Their race should not be a factor. It saddens me that in choosing a students that met the requested qualifications, this teacher is being criticized. Please note, I do not know this teacher, so if there are other facts about past behavior that are not being reported, I can not speak to those. I CAN however, speak to how Riley's Farm handles their field trips - it is an amazingly awesome experience.


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