Slavery Lesson Exposes Flaws in U.S. Education

Not only has a mock slave auction humiliated a black fifth-grader, but it also exemplifies the kind of teaching that is destroying an entire generation's chances for success.

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As a teacher, I would give the following assignments:

Nikko, watch this three-minute YouTube video and listen to the actress Alice Walker read an 1851 speech by Sojourner Truth, the abolitionist who spent part of her life enslaved. Listen carefully, and write a few sentences about the speech.

We call this a "quick write" exercise and use it to simulate discussion in the class. Here is another example:

Nikko, your assignment is to react to this quote by Frederick Douglass, a freed slave who worked to free all slaves. Look up the words you don't know. "If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning."

What is Mr. Douglass trying to say? Do you agree with him? Why?

Nikko might say, "Mr. G, this is really hard."

If he does, then you know you're doing your job.

Peter Goodman has taught in a Brooklyn, N.Y., high school, served on his union's executive board and taught education at the New School University. He now works as a consultant in the design and support of new high schools and writes a blog, Ed in the Apple: The Intersection of Education and Politics.

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