Teaching the Hard History of American Slavery

Schools are not adequately teaching the history of American slavery. Educators are not sufficiently prepared to teach it. Textbooks do not have enough material about it.

Slavery is not simply an event in our history; it’s central to our history.

American enslavement of Africans shaped our country's sociopolitical institutions and formed the cornerstone of our industrial revolution. Today the persistent disparities African Americans face — and the backlash that seems to follow every African-American advancement — trace their roots to slavery and its aftermath.

To understand the world today we must understand slavery. But SPLC research shows our schools are failing to teach the hard history of African enslavement. 

We surveyed U.S. high school seniors and social studies teachers, analyzed a selection of state content standards, and reviewed 10 popular U.S. history textbooks. We found:

  • High school seniors struggle on even the most basic questions about American enslavement of Africans.
  • Teachers who are serious about teaching slavery struggle to provide deep coverage of the subject in the classroom.
  • Popular textbooks fail to comprehensively cover slavery and enslaved peoples.
  • State content standards are timid and fail to set appropriately high expectations. 

We can and must do better. Read the report. Take the quiz. Engage with hard history. 

Research conducted by SPLC in 2017 shows that we, as a nation, are failing to adequately teach the hard history of American slavery.

Wondering how your knowledge stacks up? Take this six-question quiz.