The Number Of High School Students Who Are Accurately Taught About Slavery Is Infuriatingly Low, Report Shows

Ad failed to load

As a student in high school, I couldn’t help but notice that my social studies classes seemed to skim over the American slavery portion of the curriculum. Enslaved Africans were sometimes referred to as “unpaid workers,” and the notion that not all enslavers were abusive to enslaved people somehow always crept into the lecture. A new report suggests that my experience may be more common than I realized. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of high school students who are accurately taught about slavery is incredibly low, due to sub-par textbooks and state education standards. These findings are troubling because today’s high school seniors will be in positions of responsibility in just a few short years — f they don’t understand America’s racist history, it’s unlikely that they will understand how institutionalized racism still impacts the United States in the present.

"It's hard to discuss violence, it's hard to discuss and teach white supremacy. It's hard to learn about the shortcomings of our American icons," said Hasan Kwame Jeffries, an associate history professor at Ohio State University who spoke during a press briefing on the report. "So rather than charging head-on and trying to make sense of something that was so central to the American experience, we have tended to shy away."

Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Ad failed to load

The report, which was published earlier this year, used original survey data, the text of 10 popular textbooks, and state content standards to find that states fail to set high standards regarding teaching students about slavery and textbooks don’t provide comprehensive coverage of the institution of slavery or enslaved people. And because of this, students aren’t getting the education they deserve.

According to this report, only eight percent of high school seniors can identify slavery as the main cause for the Civil War. There’s a popular myth out there stating that the Civil War was caused over the battle of states’ rights, but that’s not the case. The “rights” some states were fighting for was the right to own enslaved Africans.

In addition to not knowing that the battle over slavery caused the Civil War, 68 percent of students didn’t know it took a constitutional amendment to formally end slavery, and less than 22 percent of students could point to how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders. The Constitution contained the Fugitive Slave Clause, which gave slaveholders the right to recover runaway slaves who escaped to free states, and the Three-Fifths Compromise, a provision that recognized enslaved Africans as three-fifths human, gave slaveholders more representation in the House of Representatives and Electoral College.

Ad failed to load

Not being able to see how discrimination against Black people is rooted so deeply in this country's history can enable students to perpetuate discriminatory behaviors, such as blaming Black people for their economic and social status in this country without realizing that it’s incredibly difficult for groups of people to overcome centuries of oppression.

While 97 percent of teachers surveyed expressed that teaching slavery is essential, only 58 percent felt adequately equipped to teach those hard lessons. “I dislike making this history come alive for my Black students," one Texas teacher told SPLC. "I feel helpless to explain why its repercussions are still with us today.”

But proper education about American slavery isn’t just for Black students. Maureen Costello, the director of SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project, said during the briefing, "We know that white nationalists particularly are targeting teenage, white youth.” She noted that she’s seen white teens "making racial slurs [...] and racist videos.” Understanding that slavery was the product of racist, white supremacist ideology may make the difference in steering teens away from joining white nationalist or other hate groups.

Ad failed to load

While this report shows that students are unaware of some basic facts about American slavery, it’s not their fault. In order to better educate young folks about this country’s racist past, states need to enforce higher standards for what's taught in school, and textbook publishers must meet or exceed those standards.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Here's Your Horoscope For Memorial Day Weekend

We’re constantly fascinated by what our zodiac sign says about our lives, whether it's which signs are most compatible or how each sign handles conflict in relationships. That's why Bustle has enlisted Mecca Woods, a New York City-based astrologer of…
By Mecca Woods

These Are The Absolute Best Memorial Day Sales This Year

Get your credit cards ready, because this year's fashion and beauty Memorial Day sales might just be the best ones yet. There's not only major savings for the holiday, but some of the savings start days before. You know, so you can spend the entire w…
By Kali Borovic

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In June To Help Get Your Summer Started

Summer is right around the corner, and so is another batch of streaming options to get excited about. On Wednesday, everything leaving and coming to Netflix in June 2018 was announced by the streaming platform. And don't worry, there's something for …
By Jamie Primeau

These Are The Beauty Products That Came Out In May That You DEFINITELY Need On Your Radar

For beauty lovers, months aren't just months: They're 28 to 31 day periods, wherein any and all product and brand launches can happen — and when they do, it feels like your birthday, no matter what time of the year you were actually born. The May 201…
By Amanda Richards

The 5 Rom-Coms You Need To Read This Summer, According To Someone Who Writes Them

'Tis the season for rom-coms. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and everyone is rocking the flirtiest items in their wardrobe. I don't know about you, but summer always takes me back to my teenage years — and that automatically makes me want t…
By Cristina Arreola

11 Tiny Sunglasses That Will Make You Look Even Cooler Than Kylie Jenner

You know what they say — the tinier the sunglasses, the more stylish the outfit. OK, that's not really a saying, but it seems to be the case these days. Basically every celebrity, model, and It person has been spotted sporting tiny sunglasses as part…
By Sara Tan

I've Paid $18,000 To A $24,000 Student Loan, & I Still Owe $24,000

It all became real the summer before my senior year of college. It was 2010, and my home phone still had a cord, which I wrapped around my fingers as I waited not-so-patiently for the apathetic representative on the other end to tell me the bad news …
By Kaitlyn Cawley

12 Personality Quizzes That Will Help You Determine Your Exact Strengths

Learning more about yourself can be tough. It's so easy to observe others to learn what makes them tick, what areas they really excel in, and the things they could be better at. Doing that to yourself, however, is a whole different story. That's exac…
By Jessica Booth

5 Brand New Short Story Collections You Can Finish In One Sitting This Weekend

Since 2013, May has been known by book-lovers by another name: Short Story Month. If you're ready to kick off this year's celebration the right way, make sure to pick up a short story collection to read over the weekend. Modern life moves more than …
By Sadie Trombetta

I Got Styled By 'Queer Eye's Tan France & Realized I Still Have A Lot Of Fashion "Rules" To Unlearn

When I walked into a New York City Express store on May 2 to get styled by Queer Eye's Tan France, I was ready for anything. And I mean truly anything. I am such a massive fan of the show and Tan that if he had instructed me to wrap myself in tin foi…
By Olivia Muenter

It Isn’t Bad To Have A “Princess Fantasy” — Mine Made Me The Woman I Am Today

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you were anything like me as a kid, at some point, the answer to that question was "a princess." Thanks to good old-fashioned gender stereotypes, most little girls born in the '90s (and even now) grew up in…
By Nicole Pomarico

Here’s How To Get A FREE 30-Minute Facial At Sephora That Sucks Your Pores Clean

Sephora has long been a mecca for both serious and amateur beauty lovers alike, where they not only have makeup artists that help answer questions about products, but free samples to let you play with new collections. But now they have upped the ante…
By Marlen Komar

Kris Jenner Is FINALLY Launching A Makeup Line With Kylie

Maybe you don't have a favorite sister of the Kar-Jenner clan, and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that when it comes power, no one in that family has more than the world famous momager. Now, Kris Jenner x Kylie Cosmet…
By Shea Simmons

This Kendall Jenner “Diva” Moment Is Really Being Taken Out Of Context

The fashion always takes center stage at the Met Gala, but there's usually a little drama, too. And this time, a member of the Kardashian-Jenner family is involved. People are buzzing about how Kendall Jenner shoved someone at the Met Gala, but after…
By Nicole Pomarico

Feel Like You've Seen Everything On Netflix? Add These Movies To Your Watch List

The weekend may feel too far away, but if you're lacking formal plans, a Netflix marathon session is always a good idea. If you're an avid viewer, however, you probably feel like you've seen everything the streaming platform has to offer already. In …
By Ashley Rey

Hillary Clinton Says She's Ready To Fight Like A Republican — EXCLUSIVE

Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away Quietly. Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Unlike Losers Before Her, Clinton Is Not Going Gently Into the Night. These headlines, which appeared in various news outlets over the course of the last…
By Catherine Thompson and Jenny Hollander

Here's The Very Best Time To Book Your Summer Vacation If You're Trying To Save Money

Summer is a great time to travel, for obvious reasons. The weather is better. Many offices are more lax about time off. If you have kids, they’re out of school. But there’s one very important element that makes summer not a great time to travel: Cost…
By Emma McGowan