A Quick Reference Guide to Teaching Hard History

Learning for Justice’s framework for teaching about American slavery can be used to supplement current curriculum or to guide the creation of new curriculum that more honestly and courageously tells the story of American slavery—one that includes the enslavement of both African and Indigenous peoples. Our goal is to inspire a widespread commitment to robust, effective and accurate teaching about American slavery in K-12 classrooms. This history, however difficult, is fundamental to understanding our nation’s past, present and future. Recognizing the myriad ways the history of slavery continues to manifest in our daily lives is fundamental to the realization of a true democracy and a just future.

For teachers concerned about walking the fine line between overloading students and sugarcoating the truth, the framework begins with 10 Key Concepts, important ideas that students—and educators—need to truly understand if they are to grasp the historical significance of slavery. Broad student learning outcomes are defined for grades K-5 with 20 Essential Knowledge sections, and for grades 6-12 with 22 Summary Objectives. The Essential Knowledge sections and Summary Objectives allow students to gain the deeper understanding as outlined in the Key Concepts and can be viewed as practical guides to help plan instruction. The framework also provides additional support for teaching each idea.

If the topic is taught with adequate breadth and depth, young people—who will become decision makers of the future—will have the ability to contextualize how the world they inhabit today was shaped by the institution of slavery and its ideological progeny, white supremacy, and draw connections between historical events and concurrent strategies for racial equality.

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, and we hope many teachers and curriculum specialists will join us on this journey.