Essential Knowledge 2

Students should know that slavery is when a person owns another person as property.


What Else Should My Students Know?

2.A “Enslaved person” is preferable to “slave” because a person is not a thing.

2.B Slavery has been allowed in many societies throughout human history and was legal in what is now the United States for hundreds of years.

2.C The main purpose of enslaving people is to make money. Enslaved people rarely earn money for their work.

2.D Many kinds of people can be enslaved, including children.

2.E When people are enslaved, they do not have freedom. Their enslavers control their actions and can say where they move, what job they do, what food they will eat, what clothes they will wear, whom they will live with, whether they can go to school and many other parts of their lives.


How Can I Teach This?

  • Help students understand that the language we use changes over time. Teachers should explain that while “enslaved person” is preferable, “slave/slaves” is important contextually because that was the language of the time and how many enslaved people were identified and identified themselves.
  • Students need to understand different economic positions (e.g., boss, worker, owner) in order to understand the relationship between work and pay. 
  • Students should brainstorm different kinds of jobs and identify key tasks that workers in these jobs have to do. They should learn about the relationship between work and pay, including the idea that people earn different wages (or no wages at all) for different kinds of work. 
  • Help students to understand the idea of ownership and property, beginning with their personal possessions. Discuss the differences between owning something, paying to use it, borrowing it and stealing it.
  • Identify the major differences between people and things. Students can identify the parts of being a human that makes us different from objects. One key to understanding slavery is the idea that people thought about others as things, rather than as humans. How do we treat each other in ways that acknowledge each other’s humanity?
  • Students should know that Columbus enslaved Indigenous people when he arrived in the Americas, and that many early colonial expeditions to the Americas, including Ponce de León’s travels through what is now Florida, were motivated by the desire to enslave people. 


Return to the Teaching Hard History K-5 Framework

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