What’s the best way to teach students about slavery?

A man inside the Justice and the Legacy Museum is reflected on the door.
A man inside the Justice and the Legacy Museum is reflected on the front door, as an outside view is seen through the door in Montgomery, Ala., in April 2018.
Brynn Anderson | AP file

Slavery is a critical part of U.S. history, yet many students leave high school without a strong understanding of its role in shaping the country.

Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center released the results of a multiple-choice test it gave 1,000 high school seniors. Of the students surveyed, only one-third knew that the 13th amendment was the law that officially ended slavery.

When asked about why the South seceded from the Union, roughly half of the students selected “To protest taxes on imported goods” as their answer instead of selecting the right answer, which was “to preserve slavery.”

Nikita Stewart raised the issue again in a piece for the 1619 Project for the New York Times. She wrote:

“Unlike math and reading, states are not required to meet academic content standards for teaching social studies and United States history. That means that there is no consensus on the curriculum around slavery, no uniform recommendation to explain an institution that was debated in the crafting of the Constitution and that has influenced nearly every aspect of American society since.”

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, two educators shared their approach to teaching difficult history with MPR News host Kerri Miller.


Charles Yarborough teaches history at The Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science and is the director of the Tales from the Crypt and Eighth of May Emancipation Projects.

Corey Winchester teaches history and the sociology of class, gender and race at Evanston Township High School in Illinois.

To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

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