Teaching Hard History AMERICAN SLAVERYhttps://www.splcenter.org/sites/default ... lavery.pdf
Report: Students and Teachers Know Little About Slaveryhttps://www.afro.com/report-students-te ... e-slavery/
The report, “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery” was released Feb. 1 as part of the SPLC’s “Teaching Tolerance” program. The initiative is designed to educate students and teachers on how to improve relations between people of different races and backgrounds. The director of Teaching Tolerance, Maureen Costello, said the history of slavery has been taught poorly in U.S. schools.
“Schools are not adequately teaching the history of American slavery, educators are not sufficiently prepared to teach it, textbooks do not have enough material about it, and as a result students lack a basic knowledge of the important role it played in shaping the United States and the impact it continues to have on race relations in America,” Costello said in a statement.
The report surveyed 1,000 high school seniors and 1,700 social studies teachers nationally, and included an examination of state standards and textbooks.
The survey found that only eight percent of high school seniors identified slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, two-thirds didn’t know that it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery and only 22 percent could correctly identify how provisions in the U.S. Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.
The report also found that while 89 percent of teachers claim to feel comfortable discussing slavery in their classrooms, their responses to open-ended questions reveal profound unease around the topic and 58 percent of educators said that their textbooks were inadequate on the subject.
Textbook coverage of slavery was lacking as well. Ranked on a scale of 1 to 100 for their comprehensiveness around the subject of slavery, textbooks evaluated by the program earned an average score of 46. In addition, 40 percent of teachers believed their state offers insufficient support for teaching about slavery.
Evaluators found that slavery is often taught without context, and while many prominent antebellum-era Blacks such as Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass are emphasized, there is little discussion about how slave labor built the country. In addition, many textbooks teach that slavery was an exclusively Southern institution, when in reality it took place in all of the 13 colonies and in all of the states after 1776.
How Scholars Sustained White Supremacyhttps://www.chronicle.com/article/How-S ... ite/243053
As part of a broader study of the legacy of the antislavery movement and the rise of the modern civil-rights era, I wanted to assess how abolitionism had been presented in textbooks. I imagined a quick look. Instead, I found myself immersed in Harvard’s collection of nearly 3,000 U.S. history textbooks, dating from about 1800 to the 1980s. Without intending, I had become engaged in a study of how abolitionism, race, slavery, and the Civil War and Reconstruction have been taught for generations.
After reviewing my first 50 or so textbooks, one morning I realized precisely what I was seeing, what instruction, and what priorities were leaping from the pages into the brains of the students compelled to read them: white supremacy. One text even began with the capitalized title: "The White Man’s History." Across time and with precious few exceptions, African-Americans appeared only as "ignorant negroes," as slaves, and as anonymous abstractions that only posed "problems" for the supposed real subjects of history: white people of European descent.
The assumptions of white priority, white domination, and white importance underlie every chapter and every theme of the thousands of textbooks that blanketed the country. This is the vast tectonic plate that underlies American culture. And while the worst features of our textbook legacy may have ended, the themes, facts, and attitudes of supremacist ideologies are deeply embedded in what we teach and how we teach it.
Noah Webster’s History of the United States (1832) is distressingly typical of most U.S. history textbooks published before the Civil War. Webster, of dictionary fame, once told the black minister and abolitionist leader Amos G. Beman that "wooly haired Africans" have "no history, & there can be none." Webster dismissed Africans as nonentities and elevated Puritans, especially Connecticut Puritans, to the level of founding fathers. His book made only passing mention of colonies (later states) below Mason-Dixon and completely ignored slavery. History, for Webster, was the record of his Puritan forbearers, and no others. The standard of whiteness-in-history had been set.
A drawing by Hanson Booth in "The Development of America," by Fremont P. Wirth (American Book Company, 1937). The captions reads in part: “Slaves at home, after the day’s work was over. Negroes always have been fond of singing and dancing.” Supremacist ideologies were deeply embedded in the textbooks of American history.
Until 1860, no American history textbook ever mentioned the name of an abolitionist or even the existence of an antislavery movement. If slavery was mentioned at all, the discussion focused on Congress and on political leaders like Henry Clay. History took place in European exploration, colonization, revolution, Constitution-forming, party politics, and presidential administrations — and nowhere else.
The Connecticut-born Samuel Griswold Goodrich, who sometimes wrote as "Peter Parley," may have been the most successful textbook author and writer of the mid-19th century. He claimed to have published 170 volumes, selling seven-million copies. He also boasted that his Pictorial History of the United States, originally published in 1843 and still in print after the Civil War, sold 500,000 copies. His 1866 edition simply tacked on a new chapter about the war, but his textbook neglected to discuss the fall of slavery. The message to students: Black lives do not matter.
The hundreds upon hundreds of other textbooks, however, some providing sympathetic views of the abolitionists and even treating John Brown dispassionately, categorically reveal the authors’ real themes and prejudices when dealing with the history of Reconstruction. The worst chapter in almost every textbook published before the 1960s, these books repeated relentlessly and emphatically the phrase "ignorant negro." Indeed, descriptions of the Reconstruction era in history textbooks published from about 1900 to the mid-1960s provide a stunning immersion in white arrogance, black incapacity, and nostalgia for the sweet days of slavery and Southern white racial domination.
But for generations of students, the textbooks of the Columbia University historian David Saville Muzzey shaped their understanding of the central crisis of American history. With over 50 publications, his influence became pervasive, especially through his History of the American People, a heavily illustrated tome of 700 pages for high-school students, used relentlessly between 1927 and 1938, and for many decades after under various other titles.
For Muzzey, "the mutual provocation of the abolitionists and the ardent defenders of the slavery system" caused the Civil War, and the North bore prime responsibility for causing the South to secede through its relentless hostility to slavery. More to the point, Muzzey explained that Reconstruction proved an unmitigated disaster, setting the untutored former slaves against "the only people who could really help them … their old masters." Instead, Northern radicals manufactured an "orgy of extravagance, fraud, and disgusting incompetence," placing upon the South the "unbearable burden of negro rule." This "crime of Reconstruction," he wrote, would be the root cause of sectional bitterness that would endure "to the present day."
Authors more familiar to current scholars and historians, such as Marcus Jernegan, Merle Curti, Ralph Henry Gabriel, Ralph Volney Harlow, and John D. Hicks, leading historians of their time, also crafted textbooks for junior high and high schools. Between 1931 and 1943, the Yale intellectual historian Ralph Henry Gabriel, along with Mabel B. Casner, a Connecticut high-school teacher, explained to students that the central problem of Reconstruction was that the former slaves "found that freedom could be a greater curse than slavery." In Southern states under Republican rule, the "Negroes were ignorant, and most of the carpetbaggers were rascals." Fortunately, however, white men organized secret societies to "fight the evils that surrounded them," especially theft, which was "very common among those who had recently been slaves" and restored white power.
The University of Chicago’s Marcus Jernegan’s The Growth of the American People (1934) relied on the toxic scholarship of Claude Bowers, George Fort Milton, and even Thomas Dixon Jr. Jernegan described the Freedmen’s Bureau as an organ for "race hatred," but the Ku Klux Klan appeared as the bulwark against carpetbag corruption. According to Jernegan, the Klan did little more than play on the "superstitious fears of the negroes" and scared them at night by dressing in white sheets and shouting "Beware! The Great Cyclops is angry!" and thus discouraged blacks from voting. Accusations of real Klan violence, he asserted, were largely fabricated.
The University of California at Berkeley’s John D. Hicks, best known for his study of the Populist Movement, described slavery in his advanced textbook, A Short History of American Democracy (1943), as "By and large … a distinct advance over the lot that would have befallen him [the slave] had he remained in Africa." Besides, Hicks suggests, where else could a people so untutored enjoy picnics, barbecues, singing, and dancing? The slaves’ "devotions [religion] were extremely picturesque, and their moral standards sufficiently latitudinarian to meet the needs of a really primitive people. Heaven to the Negro was a place of rest from all labor, the fitting reward of a servant who obeyed his master and loved the Lord. … [C]ohabitation without marriage was regarded as perfectly normal, and a certain amount of promiscuity was taken for granted. Slave women rarely resisted the advances of white men, as their numerous mulatto progeny abundantly attested." Berkeley’s history department recalls Hicks’s enormous influence, classes with over 500 students, and the impossibility of estimating "the number of students whose knowledge of American history has been built on the Hicks histories, but it is certainly an immense number."
That such rabid fiction could pass for history in 1943, or at any other time, still leaves me reeling. But such textbook "history" continued, largely ignoring the work of prodigious African American scholars like John Wesley Cromwell, George Washington Williams, Carter G. Woodson, and W.E.B. Du Bois, until the 1960s when new generations of black and white scholars transformed our understanding of the American past, and the place of race in it.
According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Teaching Hard History," as a nation we have failed miserably in our responsibility to accurately and honestly teach about slavery. Only 8 percent of high-school students surveyed by the SPLC could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War. Few teachers and even fewer textbooks connect the nation’s slave past to the history of race relations, and nearly every single teacher and textbook surveyed avoided the subject of white supremacy as avidly as the school textbooks of the 19th and 20th centuries.
It would appear that despite the monumental outburst of scholarship produced since the mid-1960s, the way we teach history remains as lifeless as John Brown’s body. But as Hasan Kwame Jeffries, an associate professor of history at the Ohio State University, observed in the introduction to "Teaching Hard History": "Slavery isn’t in the past. It’s in the headlines."