Study Reveals Deep Shortcomings With How Schools Teach America’s History of Slavery

Discussing difficult topics in a meaningful way with adolescents isn’t easy. But that’s the responsibility that comes with the job for history teachers. However, as Cory Turner at NPR reports, a new study from the Southern Poverty Law Center reveals that many classrooms are falling short in this regard, specifically when it comes to teaching about the United States’ history with slavery.

The recent report examined text books, state standards and received questionnaires from more than 1,700 K-12 history and social studies teachers. The SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance Project also administered a multiple-choice online survey about slavery to 1,000 high school seniors.

The findings revealed that only one-third of the respondents knew that the 13th Amendment ended slavery, less than half knew about the Middle Passage, and only eight percent answered that slavery was the primary reason the South seceded from the Union. (Nearly half the respondents selected, instead, “To protest taxes on imported goods.”)

The study zooms in on seven key problems when it comes to current state of teaching slavery in U.S. classrooms. Instead of learning about the horrors of slavery and the impact of slave labor on this country, it argues that textbooks and teachers have contributed to a sanitized understanding of history by focusing on “positive” stories about black leaders like Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and the abolitionist movement.

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