A K-5 Framework for Teaching American Slavery

Kate Shuster
Bethany Jay
Cynthia Lynn Lyerly

Teaching about slavery is hard. It is hard in part because slavery’s legacy of racism and white supremacy is still with us. And it’s especially hard in elementary school classrooms, where talking about the worst parts of our history seems at odds with the need to motivate young learners and nurture their self-confidence. But the legacy of slavery influences the lives of even very young students, permeating our classrooms whether or not we acknowledge it.

For teachers concerned about walking the fine line between overloading students and sugarcoating the truth, this framework for the elementary grades identifies age-appropriate, essential knowledge about American slavery, organized thematically within grade bands. For those unsure where to start, the resource is complemented by new additions to the Teaching Hard History Text Library written especially for K–5 readers. The framework itself also includes concrete recommendations for introducing these ideas to students.

Teaching young people about our hard history should engage them in important questions that have relevance to their lives. We hope that teachers will choose to engage children with the big questions: what it means to be free and how humans make choices even in the most adverse circumstances.

The framework reflects the work of scholars and experts in history, child development, educational psychology and children’s literature. They have built a remarkable path where none existed, and it’s one we hope many teachers and curriculum specialists will follow.

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

Our work has evolved in the last 30 years, from reducing prejudice to tackling systemic injustice. So we’ve chosen a new name that better reflects that evolution: Learning for Justice.

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