Teaching America’s Truth:  Talking About Slavery in American Public Schools

Teaching America’s Truth: Talking About Slavery in American Public Schools

New Survey Conducted for the Washington Post by SSRS; Poll Examines What Americans Know About Slavery

For generations, children have been spared the whole, terrible reality about slavery’s place in U.S. history, but some schools are beginning to strip away the deception and evasions.

But telling the truth about slavery in American public schools has long been a failing proposition. Many teachers feel ill-prepared, and textbooks rarely do more than skim the surface. There is too much pain to explore. Too much guilt, ignorance, denial.

A range of critics — historians, educators, civil rights activists — want to change how schools teach the subject. The evidence of slavery’s legacy is all around us, they say, pointing to the persistence of segregation in schools, the gaping racial disparities in income and wealth, and the damage done to black families by the U.S. criminal justice system. According to a 2018 report to the United Nations by the Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that advocates reducing racial disparities in prison sentences, American judges will send one in three black boys born in 2001 to prison in their lifetimes, compared with one in 17 white boys born the same year.