This Is How They Teach South Carolina Students About Slavery

tags: slavery

Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.

In Charleston, South Carolina, Civil War history and accounts of plantation life are a huge part of the town, and state, culture. An entire tourism business thrives off of showing visitors parts of this history – reenactments of Civil War battles, tours of mansions once owned by slave-owners, and staged scenes of home life for aristocrats of the period. It would be difficult for a culture that sees the Confederate flag as a symbol of Southern pride instead of slavery, not to manifest itself at school.

South Carolina’s 2011 academic standards for what students should know in social studies classes uses fairly positive language to describe settlers by labeling their actions as “accomplishments.” A grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Teaching American History program, Teaching American History in South Carolina, includes many examples of possible lesson plans on its website.

The grant program ended in 2009 but it’s still provided as guidance for teachers on the South Carolina Department of Education’s website. For example, one lesson plan is to “summarize the motivation and accomplishments” of the Vikings and the Portuguese, Spanish, English and French explorers, including Lief Erickson, Christopher Columbus, Hernando de Soto, Ferdinand Magellan and Henry Hudson, to name a few.

Some of the other lesson plans included comparing inventories for two colonial plantations, those of Thomas Drayton and Charles Moore. The students would choose five categories, such as “slaves,” “furnishings,” “farm tools,” and “total estate value” to compare inventories.

Some of the other lesson plans that were more focused on the perspectives of slaves were having children watch the 1977 television miniseries “Roots,” which follows the story of an enslaved family, and discussing the miniseries afterwards or learning about the separation of enslaved families. On the Stono Rebellion, however, there is an example lesson plan on the a teacher-led discussion on, among other things, “the economic necessity of slave labor.” The lesson plan focuses on the viewpoint of slaveowners, rather than the viewpoint of the rebelling slaves or their plans during and after the rebellion.

Guiding questions for the discussion included, “What happens to people when they misbehave at school?” and “What happened to the slaves who were involved in the rebellion?” Then the students were supposed to discuss whether the punishment was fair and what actions plantation owners can take to prevent another revolt. After the discussion, students could gather in small groups and record a list of actions planters could take to avoid further slave rebellions.

Although some of the lesson plans on the website mentioned the horrible circumstances in which slaves lived, the way slavery and slaves were described uses a lot of passive voice and describes why certain African slaves were chosen to do plantation work, as if Europeans would have done the work themselves had they possessed the skills. ...

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