I hear you. And, I did lose my cool. If you don’t mind, I will vent for a moment. Interestingly, the Star-Ledger, NJ’s most circulated newspaper, could not understand why parents were upset about the project. (Yes! You read that correctly.) The Ledger’s Editorial Board found it “curious” that most parents responded negatively to an assignment “to recreate an advertisement depicting a slave auction” when it was an “interesting and worthy project.” Relying on a SOMA education expert who approved of the project, the Ledger declared: “The only way to address existing legacies of past atrocities is through an honest lens, and it starts with images.” The Ledger presented a binary picture — either children could learn about slavery by drawing slave auction posters or they could not learn about slavery at all. (Huh?)
As we know, there are many ways to teach children about the perniciousness of the American slave-trade. Also, I doubt the lens was as “honest” as the Ledger claims. We do not know what teachers taught in every classroom. Did all children understand that laws banned slaves from learning to read and write and that doing so could lead to death? Did all children learn that slaves could not marry and could have their families torn apart and sold at any moment? Did all children learn that slavery countered the fundamental tenets that underpin our society and demonstrated the extreme hypocrisy of our lauded founding fathers? Do they understand that many of these founding fathers, as Lincoln would put it, wrung “their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces” while fighting for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” for white men? These are some of the key points that brief lessons on slavery tend to miss. Instead, slavery is often glossed over by reducing it to basic descriptions of conditions, combining it with comments about immorality and contextual racism, and accompanying the lessons with simplistic assignments to have children draw, for example, slave posters. Thanks for letting me vent!