Clark U. Prof Models Culturally Sensitive Approaches to Teaching about Slavery

Historians in the News
tags: slavery, teaching history

To help inform the teaching of American history and in particular the institution of slavery to young students, a local professor is providing middle and high school teachers with advice and practical suggestions. 

Raphael Rogers, associate professor of practice in the Department of Education at Clark University, said that teaching about “the troublesome topic of slavery” leaves teachers “nervous, concerned, worried, wary and unprepared.” He believes it has always been a complex and challenging topic in schools but “we have a problematic history and we need to grapple with it.” 

Although he works with teachers in Massachusetts, their reaction to teaching about slavery is common among teachers throughout the country. Rogers has collaborated with other Massachusetts educators to create culturally responsive teaching resources for the state’s Department of Education. 

“What I found is that people are nervous or step away from dealing with teaching slavery at any grade level — there are landmines out there if you look at the controversies that have emerged.” Earlier this year in June, an advisory panel made up of nine educators in Texas recommended that slavery be referred to as “involuntary relocation.” 

Rogers taught secondary school before he came to Clark and, in his experience, young students can definitely understand, “what it means to work for free; what it means to have your family taken away from you.” So leaning into artifacts that represent slavery — not only what the institution was like but its legacy and impact — is a means to help students make up their own minds.  

“If you’re teaching the history of this country, there are ways to introduce enslavement as a topic even at the elementary school level but you have to make sure your teachers are prepared at any level to teach this content,” Rogers said.

He believes students should not go through elementary school without knowing that this country had enslaved people, and the depth and examination of that can ratchet up as students advance through history education.

The importance of understanding slavery is complicated by the sociopolitical context, according to Rogers. 

“Should it be about celebrating this country in history classes or should it be about getting students to think critically about this country?” Rogers said. Unfortunately, he added, what is happening with some anti-critical proponents is that they push to control the discourse in classrooms.

Read entire article at Worcester Telegram & Gazette

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