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You Won't Believe What American High Schools Are Teaching Their Students About Slavery

February 3, 2018 in Blogs

By Jacob Sugarman, AlterNet

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A new report finds both educators and pupils are woefully misinformed.

Just eight percent of American high school seniors can identify the cause of the Civil War; less than a third (32 percent) know which amendment abolished slavery in the U.S.; and fewer than half (46 percent) know that the “Middle Passage” refers to the harrowing voyage across the Atlantic undertaken by Africans kidnapped for the slave trade. These are only a few of the more unnerving findings from the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which concludes that in classrooms across the country, the subject of slavery is as mistaught as it is misunderstood.

Drawing from online surveys of 1,000 12th-graders and more than 1,700 social studies teachers, along with an exhaustive analysis of the 10 most widely read U.S. history textbooks, the SPLC's latest report attempts to assess how well the country understands its original sin. In a word, the results are “abysmal.”

“[Students' misconceptions] extend beyond factual errors to a failure to grasp key concepts underpinning the nature and legacy of slavery,” writes Melinda D. Anderson of the Atlantic. “Fewer than one-quarter (22 percent) of participating high-school seniors knew that 'protections for slavery were embedded in [America’s] founding documents'—that rather than a 'peculiar institution' of the South, slavery was a constitutionally enshrined right. And fewer than four in 10 students surveyed (39 percent) understood how slavery 'shaped the fundamental beliefs of Americans about race and whiteness.'”

The teachers fared almost as poorly. Despite 92 percent claiming that they were “comfortable discussing slavery,” most implemented a course of study that could be described as incomplete at best and negligent at worse. Nearly half of the teachers failed to teach their students that protections for slavery were enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, while only a fraction more …read more


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