Teaching the Hard Lesson of American Slavery

Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery  from the Southern Poverty Law Center

is not simply an event in our history; it’s central to our history.

American enslavement of Africans shaped our country’s sociopolitical institutions and formed the cornerstone of our industrial revolution. Today the persistent disparities African Americans face — and the backlash that seems to follow every African-American advancement — trace their roots to and its aftermath.

To understand the world today we must understand slavery. But SPLC research shows our schools are failing to teach the hard of African enslavement. 

We surveyed U.S. school seniors and social studies teachers, analyzed a selection of state content standards, and reviewed 10 popular U.S. textbooks. We found:

  • school seniors struggle on the most basic questions about American enslavement of Africans.
  • Teachers who are serious about teaching struggle to provide deep coverage of the subject in the classroom.
  • Popular textbooks fail to comprehensively cover slavery and enslaved peoples.
  • State content standards are timid and fail to set appropriately expectations. 

Teacher Stepped On Black Student’s Back In Slavery Lesson

          Students at Middle School 118 told The New York Daily News that a social studies teacher picked three of the black students in her classroom and told them to lie on the floor to see “how it was to be a slave” for a lesson on the Middle Passage, where slaves were brought on ships to America.

         “How does it feel?” she asked the students.  When one girl made a joke and said she felt fine, the teacher reportedly stepped on her back.

          “She put her foot on her back and said ‘How does it feel?’” the student said. “‘See how it feels to be a slave?’”

Bronx teacher sparks outrage for using black students in cruel slavery lesson

“While the investigation has not been completed, these are deeply disturbing allegations, and the alleged behavior has no place in our schools or in society.” 

Toya Holness, Department spokeswoman 
Patricia Cummings, a social studies teacher, leaves MS 118 in the Bronx on Thursday. (Andrew Savulich/New York Daily News)

How Much Do You Know about American Slavery? 

Teachers can access free resources on teaching American slavery at:     www.tolerance.org/hardhistory


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