I teach 8th Grade Social Studies at an interdistrict magnet school in New Haven, Connecticut which services primarily African American and Latinx students. Our district utilizes a chronological method when creating curriculum guided by recommended content outlined in the C3 Framework. The C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards guides educators in creating curriculum that is inquiry based and helps prepare students for College, Career and Civic Life. 8th Grade Social Studies in our district covers the time periods of American history from colonial America through Reconstruction.
One of the units I teach is on the Antebellum time period where I include the study of slavery. I have evolved this unit over time, but before creating the following unit, I still relied heavily on the textbook History Alive: The United States Through Industrialism. When getting to the topic of slavery, the essential question I usually posed comes from this textbook and is as follows: “How did African Americans face slavery and discrimination in the mid-1800s?” (1). The textbook, though limited, does provide readers with some important concepts regarding slavery. Most notably, it explains that enslaved and free African Americans did not just accept their enslavement and discrimination, but fought back in various ways. This idea has always been empowering to my students and provides them with an anti-racist view that African Americans were not just accepting of their enslavement and discrimination but were active in resistance to end both.
However, over time I began to realize that my unit and the resources I chose did not do enough to answer all the questions students had about slavery. One glaring omission is they were not learning the direct ties between slavery and the growth of racism and white supremacy. As Kate Shuster points out, “Most textbooks do a poor job of teaching about the relationship between slavery and racism” (2). This omission left students without the answers they needed to understand the truth about America’s past to understand their present.
In this unit I aim to help students see this connection, exploring the ways elite white Americans justified the enslavement of Africans and how some of these same ideas continue to perpetuate systemic racism in our country today. Ultimately, the goal of this unit is to have students gain a more holistic understanding of the connection between slavery and the growth of racism and white supremacy in the United States and the continued legacies today, so that students can investigate ways to become change agents to combat systemic racism. This unit is not intended to cover all of the important concepts regarding slavery, but be used as a supplemental resource to address this missing piece from many traditional textbooks/curriculums.