A new study has shown that American students are not being taught the full truth about slavery. Instead, they are being shown a sanitized version of the atrocities suffered by slaves.
The report comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center and it looked at how slavery is taught in kindergarten to grade twelve classrooms. They found that students were usually taught a significantly incomplete version of events.
In many cases, the children are taught about those who helped slaves reach freedom before they are taught about the horrors of what slaves endured. The teachings are presented as an isolated phenomenon without getting into the white supremacist views that abetted it. Nor are they taught about the deeply racist ideologies that stain American society to this day.
A mere eight percent of high school seniors who were surveyed identified slavery as the main reason behind the Civil War. Approximately half of these students identified tax protests as the main cause of the war.
Even teachers were polled with unfortunate results. Approximately 66 percent of social studies teachers who were polled said that they discuss the immorality of slavery with their students. Just over half of the 1,700 social studies teachers polled said they talk about the continued legacy of slavery with their students.
Over 90 percent of the teachers surveyed said that they are comfortable enough to discuss slavery in the classroom but many of them had a higher level of discomfort when it came to open-ended questions, in particular, when teaching younger students.
“I focus on the resistance factor more to avoid the children being scared by man’s humanity to man [sic]. I don’t want to steal any child’s innocence, though I want to make sure that the children know the real history of their country,” answered one teacher.
The report notes that “It’s not simply an event in our history; it’s central to our history.” The problem is that when students leave the classroom they do not have a clear picture of the world around them. They don’t fully understand the country’s distribution of power or the institutions around them.
With the surge in white nationalism, it is more important than ever to teach the reality of slavery and its continued impact on society according to the report.
“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 states. “It is a moral necessity if we are to move the country forward toward healing slavery’s persistent wounds.”