I read an article in a recent Southern Poverty Law Center1 newsletter that mentioned a survey SPLC2 conducted targeting approximately 1000 senior high schooler’s knowledge about American slavery. The SPLC survey also involved social studies teachers and reviewed the history textbooks they used. This is what the survey found.
Would you believe only 8% of the high school seniors surveyed could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War? It gets worse. The Washington Post read the same survey and summarized it by saying this:
• 68% of the students didn’t known slavery was formally ended by a Constitutional amendment.
• 22% of the students could identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaver holders.
• 44% students knew that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American revolution.
The survey also evaluated ten popular history textbooks. Even the best history textbook score was 70 points out of 100 points based on a rubric of what should be in a history book about American slavery. The remaining textbooks accumulated 46 points out of 100 points.
Why am I telling you all this when Black History Month is half over?
1 I donate to Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) because I believe in supporting “woke” groups in America.
2 For more information, you can find and read the survey here. https://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/tt_hard_history_american_slavery.pdf
I remember when I was in high school over fifty years ago (during the dawn of the Civil Rights movement), I had a teacher and classmates who thought I could answer every single question about Black folks. We were Negroes back then. I was the only Negro they knew. You see, I lived in an all-white township of 20,000 people. My siblings and I were the only Negro kids in the entire township. When Rev. King, the Freedom Riders, or some other civil rights or Negro issue made the news, my teacher or my classmates would turn to me. “Well, Betty, what do you think about that or this?”
When it happened, I was stunned, then I became tongue-tied. In the classroom, I was shy, and embarrassed to be the only Negro kid. I sank down my seat a lot, hoping to disappear into the vinyl tiled floor. Of course, that didn’t work. On the way home one night, I vowed I’d never be clueless about my own people again. I went to the library and several bookstores one city over. I borrowed or bought every book about my own people and the civil rights movement I could find. I never did have the chance to redeem myself in front of my classmates or that teacher, not while I was still in HS. I did better in college, but that’s not the point of this story.
I have two questions: Why did my teacher think an eighth grader was qualified to be the spokesperson for an entire race simply because she was Negro too? And, why haven’t things changed much in fifty years? I can’t answer the first question, except to say it was extremely unfair of my teacher to do that to me or any student.
As for the second question, most students and their teachers have access to cellphones. They can Google or Bing all kinds of information. The same hardcovers and paperbacks I found in the library or the bookstore fifty years ago are online now along with loads of other history books that tell a far different story about America3. What’s not online is the desire or curiosity to learn more. I always thought that was what teachers did … inspire students to learn or to create an atmosphere that makes students want to learn.
I was watching Reverend Al Sharpton on his MSNBC Sunday program Politics Nation as I wrote this post. He too mentioned the SPLC survey as a part of his “GOTCHA” segment, a weekly part of his program that mentions something the host finds odd or ironic. In this case, the implication was that Black History Month was a nice start to educate some Americans. But America has a lot more work to do in educating all of its people about its true history regarding American slavery.
I couldn’t agree more.
Remember to RESIST, ENLIST, INSIST, & PERSIST.
3 One textbook that comes to mind for me is Howard Zinn’s book “A people’s history of the United States. You can find it on Amazon or Google it and make a PDF for free.
Thanks for reading,
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