‘Dot on a timeline’: Teaching of slavery continues to fall short

NY Times: Widespread slavery illiteracy exists because textbooks devotes too few pages to its history
By: | August 23, 2019
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The slavery curriculum and many textbooks leave students with only a superficial, and sometimes inaccurate, understanding of the long history of slavery in the U.S., The New York Times reported as part of its recently launched 1619 Project.

Citing studies done over the last few years by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Times reported that textbooks treat slavery as just a “dot on a timeline,” devoting too few pages to its history and damage that is still being felt today.

As a result, widespread slavery illiteracy exists among high school seniors who don’t realize it caused the Civil War. Slavery curriculum also tends to gloss over the long history of slavery in Northern states, the Times reported.

“We are committing educational malpractice,” Hasan Kwame Jeffries an associate professor of history at The Ohio State University and chair of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Hard History advisory board, told the Times.

Historian and sociologist James Loewen told DA last year that teachers should use original sources, rather than textbooks, when developing a slavery curriculum.

Read more: How to improve the flawed education of slavery

Teachers also should let students know that class discussions of slavery will likely be difficult, regardless of a student’s race, said Loewen, who contributed the teaching manual, Understanding and Teaching American Slavery.

When it comes to covering the Founding Fathers’ ownership of slaves, teachers must draw a moral line in the sand during lessons, Christy Clark-Pujara, an associate professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told DA.

“There is no good slavery, and there were no good masters,” she said. “You can appreciate the Constitution and still be critical of it as a document that supported slavery. We underestimate students’ ability to understand complexity.”