American students are not being taught the full truth about slavery, a new study has said. The report, which comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center, showed that students are being shown a sanitized version of the atrocities suffered by slaves.
It basically looked at how slavery is taught in kindergarten to grade twelve classrooms. Students were usually taught a deeply incomplete version of events, the report showed.
Students are often taught about those who helped slaves reach freedom before they are educated on the horrors that slaves had to endure.
Slavery is often presented as an isolated phenomenon without discussing the white supremacist views that abetted it. The study also found that racist ideologists who have had a negative effect on American society are ignored.
Only 8 percent of high school seniors surveyed by an independent polling firm for the study identified slavery as the primary reason for the Civil War. Almost half of the students surveyed said tax protests were the main cause.
Teachers are not comfortable talking about slavery
Teachers also posted results which could be described as unfortunate. About 66 percent of social studies teachers who were polled said that they discussed the immorality of slavery with their students. A little above half of the 1,700 social studies teachers polled said they discussed the continued legacy of slavery with their students.
Over 90 percent of surveyed teachers said that they feel comfortable talking about slavery in their classroom, but others disclosed that they were very uncomfortable when answering open-ended questions.
Many of the teachers were also not comfortable talking about the abject cruelty of slavery and its accompanying abuse, particularly sexual abuse.
The study found that the sheer inhumanity of slavery can make it difficult to teach. One Utah teacher said: “It is always difficult to discuss the ability of slave owners to treat other human beings as slaves were treated. It is hard for students to understand how someone could do that, and communicating what makes it possible is difficult.”
Teachers added that they find it hard communicating a nuanced view of slavery. A Maryland teacher was quoted in the report saying, “I don’t feel that even I understand where the proper ’balance’ is between getting across the physical and psychological pain of slavery without losing sight of the efforts made by enslaved people to build emotional, spiritual and family and community resources to cope with the institution.”
No time for the subject
Some of the teachers said they were comfortable teaching all aspects of slavery but were not given more time to cover the subject. “I am not uncomfortable teaching slavery,” one South Carolina teacher said.
“I am more disturbed by the fact that so little time is allowed to teach it. More often than not it’s glossed [over] or covered in a couple paragraphs.”
The study also reviewed 15 states’ content standards and 10 popular U.S. history textbooks.
Some states performed well than others, but they generally demanded only superficial-level teaching on the subject of slavery. The researchers found that the textbooks were also problematic.
As the study noted, the issue of slavery “is not simply an event in our history; it’s central to our history.”
If the current trend of teaching on slavery is not checked, then many of the students would leave the classroom without having a clear knowledge of the world around them and its institutions, as well as, how power is distributed.
The report argued that it is very important now more than ever to teach students the reality of slavery and its continued impact on society, considering the surge in white nationalism.
“If we don’t get the early history of our country right, we are unlikely to be equipped to do the heavy lifting necessary to bridge racial divides now and in the future,” the study stated.