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“In the ways that we teach and learn about the history of American slavery,” write the authors of a new report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), “the nation needs an intervention.”
This new report, titled Teaching Hard History: American Slavery, is meant to be that intervention: a resource for teachers who are eager to help their students better understand slavery — not as some “peculiar institution” but as the blood-soaked bedrock on which the United States was built.
The report, which is the work of the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project, is also an appeal to states, school district leaders and textbook-makers to stop avoiding slavery’s hard truths and lasting impact.
The Teaching Tolerance project began in 1991, according to its website, “to reduce prejudice, improve intergroup relations and support equitable school experiences for our nation’s children.”
The report includes the “dismal” results of a new, multiple-choice survey of 1,000 high school seniors — results that suggest many young people know little about slavery’s origins and the government’s role in perpetuating it. Just a third of students correctly identified the law that officially ended slavery, the 13th Amendment, and fewer than half knew of the Middle Passage. Most alarming, though, were the results to this question:
Which was the reason the South seceded from the Union?
a. To preserve states’ rights
b. To preserve slavery
c. To protest taxes on imported goods
d. To avoid rapid industrialization
e. Not sure
Nearly half blamed taxes on imported goods. Perhaps, the report’s authors guessed, students were confusing the Civil War with the Revolutionary War.
How Much Do You Know About American Slavery?
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