Teaching Slavery In Schools In N.H. And Nationally

Oct 24, 2019

Across the country, we're having more conversations about how slavery is taught in our schools, and the importance of understanding slavery for contextualizing the rest of our nation's history. How do students learn about slavery, and what are the gaps, challenges, and effective curriculums?

Original air date: Thursday, October 24, 2019. 

GUESTS:

Transcript:

This is a computer-generated transcript, and may contain errors. 

Laura Knoy:
I'm Laura Knoy. and this is The Exchange.

Today, how slavery is taught in schools across the country. There are growing conversations around this, given that 20 19 marks the 400 anniversary of the beginning of American slavery. This landmark year has raised many questions. Among them, what's in our textbooks and curriculum guidelines and what should be there? How to New Hampshire teachers conduct classroom discussions when most of them are white. And in our country's fraught political atmosphere these days, how do educators talk about slavery's history in connection with today's news?

What did you learn about slavery in school and how else did you learn about it outside of the classroom? We'd love to hear from you.

Laura Knoy:
We have two guests for the hour with me in Studio JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire and director of the Harriet Wilson Project. JerriAnne it's always nice to see you. Thank you for being here.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Thank you so much for having me.

Laura Knoy:
Also with us from New York City, Nikita Stewart, reporter for The New York Times. She wrote, Why can't we teach slavery right in American schools?" for the 1619 project with the Times. That's a reporting project about slavery in America 400 years after it began. And Nikita, a big welcome to you, too. Thank you very much for your time.

Nikita Stewart:
Oh, thank you for having me.

Laura Knoy:
So, Nikita, to you first, just broadly and then we'll definitely get into details throughout the hour. But what's missing from your average American public education when it comes to this topic?

Nikita Stewart:
We have to start at the beginning. You know, when we are children, we learn about our founding fathers. We learn about George Washington. We learn about Thomas Jefferson. We learn about all of these great men, but we don't learn about their stances, their views on enslavement that helped to shape this country. So I believe that is what's missing. We have to start at the beginning and not when we get to the civil war.

Laura Knoy:
So that's how slavery is usually presented, Nikita. It's sort of, you know, 15, 20 years before the civil war and 10 years after the civil war. That's kind of that isolated chunk. You're saying start at the beginning and go all the way to the present day.

Nikita Stewart:
Yes. You know, in my essay that I wrote for The New York Times, I talked to lots of folks. But I remember talking specifically to Hasan Jeffries. And he spoke to me about his daughter, who is elementary school aged, coming to him with her assignment to give some fun facts about George Washington. She was like, oh, he loved rabbits. He owned rabbits. And he said, yes, he owned rabbits. He also owned people. And that, you know, I guess could be kind of shocking for children. But if we don't learn to teach them in a way that is sensitive and age appropriate, we're never going to get past this discussion that we're having now.

Laura Knoy:
You know, JerriAnne this fits in perfectly to the work that you're doing. You've talked a lot about reminding northerners that slavery was present here right from the beginning.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Absolutely.

JerriAnne Boggis:
So we had the first enslaved person recorded in Portsmouth being from 1645. And so we have that story. And that's I want to remind people that that's what we have recorded. You know, there could have been somebody else before, an entirely person before. But that was a case that actually went up. The the man that was captured and brought to Portsmouth in 1645, was captured on a Sunday, the day of the Sabbath. So they were not supposed not because he was captured and enslaved, but because he was the the enslavers did it on a Sunday. So that became the news in the courts. So that's why we have that record. But without that, we wouldn't have had that.

Laura Knoy:
Do you see what Nikita talks about, that slavery in general in our schools here in New Hampshire is taught as sort of part an important part of a unit concerning the civil war. But it's not threaded into the whole narrative of our country.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Well, first of all, we talk about slavery is you go into Africa to get slaves. We didn't go to Africa to get slaves. We went to Africa and enslaved people. So the language that we use is missing, how we talk about it, how we think we separate the humanity from the people we enslaved, you know, in the way we talk about them so that we can justify the enslavement. And that's that's what for me is missing is really looking at it truthfully. And if we look at it truthfully, we have to engage in that American dialogue. Yeah, we're not. Equal justice for all. We enslaved people and what that meant and we have to look at the brutality of slavery because we want to.

JerriAnne Boggis:
I know it has to be age appropriate. But just ignoring it doesn't make it go away.

Laura Knoy:
Why is it important, as Nikita told us, to tell children, even young children, that these founding fathers who set up this country, who we all sort of revere, that many of them are slave owners? Why is that important to know?

JerriAnne Boggis:
Because we lived through the mythology that these men were without faults. Right. They were superhuman. They were. So, I mean, George Washington couldn't tell a lie, right? He didn't you know, he told that he chopped down the cherry tree, which is all not even based on truth. Right. Somebody wrote that in a in his biography. So once we start looking at the complexity even of our founding fathers, we're looking at the truth and we can see them for human the human that they were in in humanizing them. We can you humanize the enslaved? We can humanize each other. So we have to look at that and stop putting these people on these pedestals without really looking at the complexities of who they were as human.

Laura Knoy:
And since you mentioned George Washington, we just have to mention there's a special connection to New Hampshire, right, with George Washington and enslavement of people.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Absolutely, one of his enslaved people, Martha and George, is enslaved body servant Ona Judge escapes here to Portsmouth from the. What was the White House in Philadelphia? And ends up living here in the actually and this is the complexity of George Washington. He actually saved catches for her. Right. So on one hand, we're talking he's talking gradual emancipation. And on the other hand, he had to get his property back in the form of ownership.

Laura Knoy:
We asked our listeners how they were taught about slavery in school, what they find is lacking. And Nikita and JerriAnne we got this great e-mail from Laura yesterday. She answered our question. How were you taught about slavery in school? Laura says, I'm 47 and I still have my high school American History book, which was published in 1986. So I pulled it out, Laura says, and took a look. Laura, by the way, thank you for doing that. She says the book is over a thousand pages and slavery is covered in about seven of those pages, much of which describes plantation owners, extravagant homes and not slavery at all. To quote from the book, Laura says Slaves found many ways to harass their masters. Often they purposely slow down their work or did it poorly. Sometimes they struck back or even killed their white masters. It also says many slaves, quote, became deceitful and showed respect to their masters while secretly holding resentment and hatred toward white people. Laura gives us one more quote from this book. She says, The book finally reassures in quotes with black slaves, also found ways of expressing their joy in songs and dances and humor in folktales and jokes. And the book tells us that many slaves became skilled workers. Women learn to spin even so, and men became blacksmiths, painters and shoemakers.

Laura says the book makes slaves sound like ungrateful foreign exchange students who learned valuable skills and had little appreciation for their, quote, hosts. Appalling, she says. Laura, thank you for doing that work. And Nikita, does this sound like some of the commentary that you got when you talk to people about what how they learned about slavery?

Nikita Stewart:
Oh, definitely. You know, it it's all about the language that is in these textbooks. And it started very early with the textbooks. You know, I in doing research for the essay, I went to the Historical Society in New York and I looked at several books, one of which was very, you know, small children's book. It almost looked like when I opened it, it was gonna be a picture book. It was the geographical reader for Dixie Children. And I opened it and I couldn't believe what I was reading because the geography was based on racism and just casually referred to people from Africa as African savages said that they were ignorant in their country. But here they had grown docile. So basically there was nothing to worry about.

Nikita Stewart:
It was shocking, but I realized that, you know, this is an early book from the eighteen hundreds. And so, you know, how do you text books take a lot of time to evolve. Remember that a lot of schools are, you know, still have, you know, textbooks from, you know, they're 20 years old. And so even if someone is writing new editions, that language is still there. And that's where we are. It's about the language. It's it's gotten to the point that many teachers are taking education, if you will, into their own hands, meaning they're not using the textbooks or using the textbook sparingly or even challenging the text books.

Nikita Stewart:
You know, the Southern Poverty Law Center looked at several textbooks for a study two years ago. And you know, what they found was, you know, for example, I looked at the textbook that I used when I was a child. Well, when I was in high school and my textbook was the American Pageant. And that was the book that was used for the AP history exam. And when you read current editions, it's still referring to the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings as intimate. And it was an affair. And I'm also not referring to the rape of enslaved women as, in fact, rape.

Laura Knoy:
Saying they had relationships, making it sound like they were girlfriend and boyfriend.

Nikita Stewart:
Yes.

Laura Knoy:
You know, I'm glad you mentioned AP history because our producer, Christina Phillips reached out to many teachers for this program. Obviously 9 oclock has a hard time for teachers to come on the air. But she did an interview with Bob Ward, who's been teaching history in New Hampshire for 47 years. Right now, he's just teaching AP U.S. history. He's at Goffstown High School. And I want to play this audio from Bob because of something you just said, Nikita, that some teachers do recognize the limitations of textbooks. They're going outside the textbooks. They're putting their own knowledge into this subject area. Here's what Bob said about how much latitude he has in the AP history curriculum.

Interview Sound:
We've got a broad outline from the college board of what the course would be, but they also leave us a wide latitude. Just choose our own examples to represent the various trends in history. Almost every thing we teach in history has current relevancy, whether we're talking about race, talking about impeachment, talking about immigration. Almost any topic needs historical context to be understood. And the reality is, I think the trend in core current U.S. history is to make sure that all of these topics are integrated into the overall overall flow of United States. History of slavery and race are not a separate topic. They're right within the floor, the floor of the mainstream with history, and we need to deal with them in that fashion.

Laura Knoy:
And that gets to what you said earlier, JerriAnne that it isn't just, again, this isolated time period right around the civil war and so forth. It's woven into everything.

JerriAnne Boggis:
It is. It is. What he just mentioned is really important. I think if we have our textbooks that the teachers are using and it's got this, that it still has the stereotypical imaging of what it means to be black, to be African-American. And you're still using those words - we're still reinforcing those ideas. So we need to really train our teachers that they know what the history is, that they can look at, you know, look at their own internal biases. And, you know, when there's certain words.

JerriAnne Boggis:
You know, we've got to come to this from a real clean slate and look at the words we're using. The stories were telling, whereas these stereotypes coming from, you know, what is the economic engine that drove the slave trade? You know, why do we focus onthe these slave owner and not on that whole economic engine? You know, the north is not free from it. We had all the manufacturing for the cotton. We had our plantations owners of the same manufacturing place here in New Hampshire, owned plantations in the south. So it's not a North or South issue. It's an American issue that we have to look at and we have to look at it from the whole holistic point of view.

Laura Knoy:
And we here in the north often think, well, we're off the hook yet, but. You're saying "nuh uh", you know, going back to Bob Ward for a moment, again, to bring that New Hampshire teacher voice in. He says he and other teachers have talked about this and they do feel that slavey should be presented as a factor throughout the history, not just as a southern thing, not just as a civil war thing.

Laura Knoy:
Let's hear a little bit again from Bob Ward.

Interview Sound:
I think we're all in agreement that these topics are so much a part of the flow of events in this country. They've done so much to shape the current dialogue in the country that they have to be a part of your curriculum. Curriculum. And while they're not separated off. Is slavery relevant to what happens after the Civil War? Absolutely. We have a period of great gain and great loss that follows the Civil War. Is it relevant to what happens in the 1930s during the Depression? Absolutely. Is it relevant to the race issues of the 50s and 60s? Definitely. And are we do we still have a problem with race in America? Absolutely. And these things are a continuity. And we will look at history, we have to look at both the continuities and the change in history that are shaping the present.

Laura Knoy:
Again, that's Bob Ward. He teaches AP history at Goffstown High School. Nikita. I'd love your thoughts on what you heard from teachers as you worked on this 1619 project, what they felt was adequate, where they wanted, you know, more help in presenting this topic.

Nikita Stewart:
Well, you know, with the Southern Poverty Law Center study, they surveyed about seventeen hundred teachers and they found that 60 percent of them did not feel that their textbooks were adequate. So a lot of teachers are looking for guidance. Unfortunately, there are some teachers. You know, every year we hear at least one story that goes national about a teacher deciding to do like a reenactment to engage the students, which is definitely ill advised. But you have to question why a teacher would decide like this is OK. And that is because there is no uniform social studies curriculum. The way there is for, like, you know, math and reading. In fact, when you look at social studies, teachers, social studies, teachers, most of them also are the athletics coaches, which is interesting.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we'll pick up on the curriculum issue after a short break. I'm really glad you mentioned that, Nikita. I spent a lot of time yesterday looking at New Hampshire's social studies curriculum. So we'll definitely talk about that in just a moment. And let's hear from you. We've got some great e-mails before the show. People answering the question, how were you taught about slavery in school? What did you learn inside the classroom? What did you learn outside the classroom? We also heard from more teachers about how they try to present this topic. So you can comment on Facebook. You can tweet us or you can send us an e-mail. Exchange it an HP Borg in moment.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. today. How do we teach slavery in school? And is it good enough? What's lacking? Listeners, we want to hear from you. What was your experience learning about slavery in school? How did you learn inside the classroom? What did you learn outside the classroom? We'd love to hear from you this morning. With me in studio, JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire and director of the Harriet Wilson Project, joining us from New York City. Nikita Stewart, she's a reporter for The New York Times. She wrote, "Why can't we teach slavery right in American schools?" for the 1619 project with the Times? Again, the 1619 project is a very large reporting project about slavery in America 400 years after began. There are links and more information to all of this on our Web site.

Laura Knoy:
I'd like to just share a couple of comments that came in last night and this morning, Lahneen says, didn't learn very much. Kind of glossed over. Got a lot more information from Roots, the mini series and Eyes on the prize from PBS in the 80s. Also the Civil War documentary from Ken Burns and Al Flyway in the 90s. Jane also says Watching Roots, a series on PBS TV When I was young, it was so eye opening for me. And Keith says I was in seventh grade when the Roots mini series came out. From that point on, I don't recall what I was taught in history classes, having a major influence in my understanding in both eighth grade and 10th grade. The years American history was taught in New Hampshire, the focus was much more on the colonial and revolutionary periods than the Civil War and everything. Everything seemed rushed to fit in. Thank you to those listeners for commenting on Facebook, for answering our question. How did you learn about history in school?

Laura Knoy:
You know, both of you, Nikita, maybe you first. I'm struck by three listeners talking about roots and a couple of them mentioned other documentaries. And that's where they really kind of got the appreciation. Not in school. I just wonder what you think about that.

Nikita Stewart:
I think that's very true. I think about my own upbringing. And one of the things that I had written that didn't make it into the essay was, you know, I can remember like walking in and basically the folks in my family, any household you went into there is like the Bible and there was a copy of Roots. And I remember my aunts was like, you know, she had, you know, read it so often that, you know, the pages were, you know, kind of crumbling in it, you know, with a paperback. And so it's actually a shame that the this is a book that a lot of us read outside of school.

Nikita Stewart:
But I do remember when I was in the eighth grade, a teacher showed us the Roots series to basically teach, teach enslavement, which looking back, that probably wasn't the way to go either. But she probably didn't have the text book that she felt was reliable and she wanted students to understand the cruelty.

Laura Knoy:
Why do you think that wasn't the way to go, Nikita?

Nikita Stewart:
Because I think we have to have other documents,.

Laura Knoy:
Other narratives.

Nikita Stewart:
Yes. Unfortunately, because the written word is so valued and because we were left out of the written word so many years ago at the beginning of this country and before that, our stories aren't fully told. But for example, my great grandfather was interviewed for the Federal Writers Project.

Nikita Stewart:
And he was born in 1858 and remembered his enslavement and the enslavement of his mother and his grandmother. And, you know, I would hope that teachers would look to some of those primary sources from in and allow students to look at those documents and to kind of make some decisions that are about the history of this country that are not necessarily shaped by the opinions of the writer of a textbook.

Laura Knoy:
You know, when you talk about primary sources and documents, JerriAnne, that fits in perfectly with what you are doing, both with the Black Heritage Trail in New Hampshire and the Harriet Wilson project, how much do you see teachers nowadays availing themselves of the resources that you have?

JerriAnne Boggis:
So are few teachers that are really dedicated to this will come and ask how, you know, they they will they will find the sources, they will go the extra mile to look for this because these sources are not really ready. You know, there's not a lot of primary resources that we can look at that will give you the insight into the life of an enslaved person, especially here in in the north. So we rely on looking at a broader spectrum and getting and comparing different people's story from different places that would be similar to that.

JerriAnne Boggis:
So we have to, one of the things that Nikita just said is that, you know, we have to look back at the older records, the oral stories, you know, that the enslaved people told themselves, we have to look back at, you know, people doing their genealogy research.

JerriAnne Boggis:
You know, they're different. There's going to be difference primary sources simply because the people who get to tell the story here, we're telling it from the white perspective, you know. So it's skewed. The history is skewed from that.

JerriAnne Boggis:
I wanted to say, like I'm originally from Jamaica so the way we we got our stories is told from a from a total different lens. Our revolutionary fighters, our rebels were the heroes in this story. So they're courageous, they're brave. You know, they're strategic. They're planning, they're quick orators, you know, all week. The other side that would encourage these rebellions and fighting for freedom. So our narratives and our stories are the opposite because we get to write our stories in here. Somebody else writes our stories.

Laura Knoy:
That's what's interesting about your own personal experience is coming from Jamaica. As you said, you got to write your own stories and then you come to this country where most enslaved people could not read or write. They were certainly not allowed to. So I'm different.

JerriAnne Boggis:
I'm always cautious about saying most were not. Because when we start looking at documents like the 1779 petition that was written in Portsmouth by 20 enslaved men.

Laura Knoy:
Yes. Tell us about that. That's really interesting.

JerriAnne Boggis:
So that really changes that narrative. So in 1779, a group of enslaved men who came to the country who were enslaved here from the from they were young boys, got together and wrote this petition for their freedom. Just asked at the same time that America was writing its Declaration of Independence from the British. So we have the same language, we have the thoughtfulness, we have the the humanness in that document that we're looking for that was written by the men themselves. Right. So it gives us a different look.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Harriet Wilson's book, published in 1859, changes that literary timeline of when African-Americans were writing. And that's one that we know of that was published. What about other journals that were not published? Other writings, you know, and were other people writing in their own home language? Right. We don't know. But that just because we don't have it doesn't mean that they weren't one of the things that one of the stories that I'm always intrigued by in Portsmouth is the store of Primus Fowler. Who was he? He would set the types for the - he was enslaved to Mr. Fowle and he was the typesetter for the newspaper.

JerriAnne Boggis:
And the narrative that comes down about him is, was that he is illiterate. So, how are you illiterate when all your life use typesetting the paper print? You know, if you are thinking human being, you just wonder. That raises a question. Well, was he illiterate? How how could he said it? If he was, you know, so I think our history bears re-examining and and we have to be willing and open to ask the questions and look at those narratives that were written and say, how come I mean, the idea of a lazy, enslaved person not working in the field always blows my mind while the owner sat down and watched them there in the field and expected to produce. Right. All of this. But also, too, if they didn't, that's a that's one way they could. So and they had to be strategic about slowing down work. That one way to protest. You know, they couldn't protest too far. They will be punished. They can't overproduce. Silly have to be strategic enough to walk in that middle lane. That won't that will get attention, but not the kind of attention that they want.

Laura Knoy:
I want to return for a moment to something Keith wrote us on Facebook at the end of his comment. Keith says the focus is much more on the colonial and revolutionary periods than the Civil War and everything after seemed rushed to fit in. And boy, that's a common refrain that you hear from history teachers, is that, yes, I would like to focus more on this, but boy, I am expected to fit so much in. I want to play a little bit more from Bob Ward. Again, that's the AP history teacher who we talked to at Goffstown High. He is, you know, as we heard from him earlier, very involved in presenting this history to his students, in weaving it into our past, our present, our future. But even Bob talked about, you know, the time pressure. So let's hear.

Interview Sound:
Certainly the AP curriculum is comprehensive in that we're a survey course and we basically start with the Bering Land Bridge and finish with the Donald Trump administration. And we do this at about 80 class periods of night, 90 minutes in my in my experience. So how do you do? How do you fit everything in? Well, the key answer, I guess, is that you don't that you have to pick and choose choose where you're going to devote your time and have to pre-plan all of that to make sure that you're including all elements of society within your treatment if U.S. history.

Laura Knoy:
So JerriAnne Nikita. Nikita, you first. We've been talking sort of big picture and broad. Bring it down to that sort of granular classroom level. What would you say, Nikita, to a history teacher who is completely on board with what you're trying to do with the 1619 project, but just feels like he or she does not have time? What would you say, Nikita?

Nikita Stewart:
Because it is about weaving in the you know, in the history of enslavement through out the course, because there is nothing that has happened in this country that has not been touched by this country's decide.

Laura Knoy:
Sorry about that, go ahead, Nikita.

Nikita Stewart:
Yeah. There's nothing there's nothing that has not been touched. Our banking system. The way we farm, the way we - You know, you can bring it to the modern era. Our massive incarceration. Redlining. Our electoral college. These are all things subjects that are taught where you can also remember to go back and explain how enslavement influenced these modern forms of discrimination or these modern, you know, the way we operate our government. And you know, there's always a teaching moment. Right. Because I was thinking about the language that we use. And, you know, you saw so many people comment when the term lynching was used this week. And so that was a chance to give a history lesson on lynching in this country.

Laura Knoy:
Let's go to our listeners again. And I love the comments that have been coming in. And to the phones now, Elizabeth joining us from Manchester. Hi, Elizabeth. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Good morning. I was just wondering. Hi. Well she kind of already answered my question as far as like raising the issue regarding the L word, which was just used by our president and has been used by people throughout history to describe their own personal political plight all the way to the Co-op County Democratic chair. So why is it that white people feel emboldened to use the word lynching to describe their own situation? And yet they have absolutely no idea. It seems that that what that word is rooted in and that is a terrible history that we are trying to overcome.

Laura Knoy:
Elizabeth, thank you for the call, JerriAnne I'd love your thoughts on this.

JerriAnne Boggis:
I had to pause on that one because the majority of people, we erase this history so well, we don't want to talk about it. That it becomes just another word, another word that we could use, you know, like how we normalize things. If you say it enough, then it's normalized and it has no grounding in history..

JerriAnne Boggis:
It's one of those things that blows my mind because we're, if we look at the whole history, the history of lynching in the country and that even, you know - it's just horrible. And I don't think Americans really want to face that history of how brutal and how torturous, degrading to human. I mean, if you look at the pictures, you know, people celebrating over a burnt corpse, then that's not - in your heart, you say - that's not America. So we wipe it out. You know, because we want to say America. Equal justice for all. Land of the free, home of the brave and all the platitudes we say.

JerriAnne Boggis:
But looking at our history in its true form, really facing it requires us to. And I think if if we understood that, you know, what that did and that trauma that still carries on today, that historical trauma, then we would have a better understanding of how we use- because that the use of it is just to to create this sensationalized feeling. You know, being lynched, with no concept of all the other deep psychological traumatic experiences that other people and we have people. I mean, Nikita's talking about her great grandparents living through enslavement. Right. It's not that far away that history, that historical memory shouldn't be that far away, that we can blatantly use a word like that as a throwaway word to get attention.

Laura Knoy:
So don't use it unless you're talking about history and the real thing.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Or talking about what it is.

JerriAnne Boggis:
It has that meaning. We're talking about people's lives. We're talking about - We're talking about just really torture. You know, we don't talk about, I mean, our Jewish community went through the ovens. Right. We don't use that as a blatant thing that we go out and say. Right. Because we know what it means. We know that pain. We know the trauma. We know the families. We know the survivors. We know that people are still there.

JerriAnne Boggis:
So it's to honor and understand that history.

Laura Knoy:
Well, thank you for the call, Elizabeth, and I think it gets to something that you both have talked about, that Bob Ward, the teacher who we interviewed, talks about sort of learning about this, but not just in that isolated context of the civil war era, but really weaving it into, again, America's past and present and future. So thank you for the call. We'll take more of your calls in just a moment. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. tomorrow on our show. It's the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup you can catch up on all the New Hampshire news that you might have missed during the week. That's tomorrow morning. Live at 9:00 this hour. How we teach slavery in schools and what's missing. Our guests are JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail in New Hampshire, director of the Harriet Wilson Project. And joining us from New York. Nikita Stewart, a reporter for The New York Times. She wrote recently, "Why can't we teach slavery right in American schools," for the 1619 project if you're not familiar with that? That's a project of The New York Times about slavery in America 400 years after it began. And you can check out our Web site today for more information and links.

Laura Knoy:
And JerriAnne, Nikita, lots of responses from our listeners. I'd like to share an e-mail that was written by Barry in Concord.

Laura Knoy:
He says, As an Afro-American parent whose children have been educated New Hampshire, I'm deeply concerned about the lack of racial diversity of New Hampshire teachers. And it's the impact on the ability to pass deeper understanding of the impact of slavery. Barry says recall that the spokesman of the New Hampshire Department of Education submitted a racially and ethnically charged trope in the comment section of the local paper. This is, just to let listeners know if they weren't familiar, a former Department of Education official said New Hampshire had become a cesspool, in comments in a New York Times article about our state's efforts to promote diversity. Barry says, My 8th grade son came home and said he was given pieces of seeded cotton to demonstrate the difficulty of separating the seeds, as their demonstration of the difficulty of slavery. What is the larger plan for education on this and similar topics in New Hampshire? Recall slavery in America is 400 years, 150 years older than the republic, but gets just a few hours in a child's education.

Laura Knoy:
Thank you so much, Barry. And I want you from both of you on this. Maybe you first, Nikita, especially around his example of that exercise that his son got separating seeds out of cotton to show you how hard it was.

Nikita Stewart:
Yes. That is not the first time I have heard that. For some reason, teachers think that is a good way. But when you have reenactments like that and tests, it trivializes the the cruelty, the brutality of what happened in this country when he talked about diversity, the lack of diversity in New Hampshire. New Hampshire is not alone. Eighty percent of teachers in this country and they are like more than three million teachers are white. And that is not to say that white people can't teach black history or history of any other people other than white people. But it is to say that there is there's this lack of diverse voices in education, period, throughout this country. And until we have everyone at the table trying to collectively shape what our children learn, we're going to be having this conversation for a long time.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and people sent in examples after you wrote your essay, Nikita, or maybe as a part of it sharing how they were taught about slavery. I want to share one. Got this from again from the 1619 project.

Laura Knoy:
Mary wrote in: In the fifth grade, I was one of three black girls in the class and all three of us were assigned to be, quote, slaves during a presentation. I told my teacher that I was too nervous to give the presentation. And he told me to add that into the roleplaying. He said, if my voice shakes or cracks, I can say I sound like that because, quote, "Massa will beat me or sell me if he nude. I was talking to y'alls" end quote, It was very humiliating, Mary says. And I felt horrible afterwards.

Laura Knoy:
And you know what strikes me about this story? It wouldn't be so surprising if this person who wrote in were, you know, 70, 60 years old. Mary, who wrote in is 29.

Laura Knoy:
So she wasn't in high school that long ago. I wonder what your response is either to that, JerriAnne, or to some of the themes that were raised by Barry who e-mailed us?

JerriAnne Boggis:
So the in talking to Barry who emailed, they, it's - Our educational system is another system that falls in that systemic racial issues of problems where, if, our AP teacher that we just spoke on, even here in New Hampshire, the amount of these students of color who are in AP classes. They just don't get into AP classes, not because of their abilities that they can't. So we notice in our educational system that up to middle school all students test at the same level, no matter what race, color, class they're all testing. You know, in their abilities, in their group at the scene.

JerriAnne Boggis:
When they get to middle school, we start seeing that breakdown by race and what happens in our early learning classes, so when they get to middle school, what is our system doing? Where where are we getting these ideas that students of color are not as bright? And then if we start coming to high school and then we start, you know, separating our students and saying that this group of people are not writing off to do AP classes and he goes to college and then it goes to the you if you go on and on. So how do we how do we create those equal educational systems where we're not looking at people through a racialized lens?

Laura Knoy:
We actually reached out again to our audience well before the show asking how people were taught about slavery, what more they want to know. And we did get a voicemail from a student in Manchester. So let's hear from her.

Interview Sound:
I'm a junior at Central high school. At school, we don't really talk about race as a topic. We really just hang with people with similar interests and similar. And in the classroom, because we actually could learn about more African country and diverse culture and what things were like before slavery.

Laura Knoy:
And I want to thank her for calling in. And I'm so struck by the last thing that she said. Both of you, she says, I'm interested in, you know, where people came from, what their cultures were like before slavery. And Nikita, we never learn about that part in U.S. history. We learn when it came to our shores, or at least I certainly don't remember anything, you know, before 1619. And I wonder what your thoughts are about that wonderful colleague from the student Manchester.

Nikita Stewart:
Oh, I would say she's absolutely right. You know, I certainly did not learn anything other than what I saw on Roots and what I read in Roots. And then when I got to college, then my eyes were open to different books that I could read that, you know, about, you know, before we were forced to come to this country.

Nikita Stewart:
And so I think she's absolutely right on that.

Nikita Stewart:
And I wanted to go back to what JerriAnne was talking about. She asked, where do we get these ideas? Basically that black children are inferior. And it all goes back to enslavement. These you know, the justification for enslavement was that black people were inferior. Black people didn't have feelings of black people could take pain. They did not feel pain.

And these are - these these these lies. You know, people are still holding onto them today. And that's how we are still seeing the discrimination that we're seeing and the segregation. You know, New York City has one of the most segregated school systems in the country. And, you know, it's often blamed on, ah, you know, basically money and economics. So, you know, you're in this neighborhood. It happens to be mostly black and Hispanic. So that's those are the folks at your school. But that doesn't explain, you know, the specialized high schools.

Nikita Stewart:
And it doesn't explain when, you know, all over the country on when white parents simply believe that if there are too many black students in the school, then the school must be bad. So.

Laura Knoy:
Well, we've been hearing from listeners and I've been sharing their comments throughout the hour. And it's been so interesting to hear from people about how they learned about slavery. We also heard from several teachers, in addition to Bob Ward, who's interview we've been playing.

Laura Knoy:
Derrick wrote for those who teach Latin and ancient history. You start with the slave societies of the Near East, Greece and Rome. The similarities and differences between them, the ideologies underpinning them. You explain the freedmen system of Rome, plus the different ways fields' slaves were treated versus house slaves and the different ways women slaves were treated and so forth. So that's Derek. He's a teacher. He wrote in.

Laura Knoy:
Sherry says, I start at the beginning, 1619. I move onto the distinction drawn in the John Punch case between white indentured servants and black slaves, then cover the Virginia slave codes. Sherry says students need to understand the careful and deliberate building of a brutal system.

Laura Knoy:
So I just want to share those comments from New Hampshire teachers. And let's go to the phones. Ron is calling in from Manchester. Hi, Ron. You're on the air. Welcome.

Caller:
Good morning, Laura. I just want to congratulate Miss Stewart, New York Times on the 1619 series is wonderful and the podcast is extremely illuminating and obviously also quite disturbing. I grew up and graduated high school in the 80s, had a standard public education, didn't learn much about slavery or enslavement, and then discovered Howard Dean's book, The People's History of United States on my own. And it just feels like there should be more scholarship from the perspective of people.

Caller:
We know the old aphorism that history is written by the winners. But in order to understand where we are and know we're seeing the dire consequences of our own collective historical ignorance right now, in many ways we need to dig deeper and figure out how to bring these individual stories and these these plates to our attention. So we understand how we got here and what we need to do to fix some of these historical wrongs as much as we possibly can.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Ron, thank you very much for calling and a couple listeners. I want to let you know, Nikita also mentioned the 1619 project. Robby wrote, He didn't learn nearly enough about slavery, that's for sure. He says the 1619 project is a real eye opener. What do you hope to do with this project? Nikita, I know you're just one person working on it, but what's sort of the the span of your aspirations with this?

Nikita Stewart:
Well, you know, there is already a curriculum on, you know, using the 1619 project. The Pulitzer Center was has been instrumental in being a partner with The New York Times in giving providing teachers with the information from the 1619 project and also offers like, you know, questions that can be asked to students. So, you know, the 1619 project certainly did not end with, you know, the printing of a special section and the magazine. We want this to live on. And, you know, I think what has been most valuable about the 1619 project, which was headed by my dear friend Nikole Hannah-Jones, is that. It sparked a conversation that people were not expecting to have to engage in, and that has been just beautiful to watch. And I think it also sparks this. It's actually a very American thing, right, to be able to stand up and challenge what is happening. And what we learned and I just think it's fantastic.

Laura Knoy:
Go ahead, JerriAnne. In your work in terms of students, whether working with teachers or just individual young people?

JerriAnne Boggis:
Well, what Nikita said is what really excites me. This work sparks a conversation, and that's what I mean. That's why we do what we do is to get that dialogue going. The African burying ground in Portsmouth. People can't go there now and not raise that question. Why is this monument here? What is this history there? There was slavery in the north. How did they get here? Who are these?

JerriAnne Boggis:
So it sparks that conversation looking as we extend statewide and tells different stories of Harriet Wilson in Milford. If we tell Noyes Academy in Canaan, if we tell about, you know, Amos Fortune, those are they're African-American people, black people, formerly enslaved people all across the state. You know, that you can tell, you know, right in somebodies hometown.

Laura Knoy:
Right in your backyard.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Right in your backyard. So it raises the question and then you can start that dialogue. It's an easy place to get into the conversation when you're talking about somebody, someone history right in your backyard.

Laura Knoy:
A place you either live in or drive by or visit frequently.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and to that point, Mike in New Hampton writes, The Underground Railroad had several routes through New Hampshire, Rogers Homestead. Now Silver Hall at Plymouth State. He says, polar caves in Rumney were a hideout. The first integrated school in Canaan, which you just mentioned, JerriAnne and the runaway slave of George Washington, escaped to Portsmouth. And he's referring to Ona Judge, who you mentioned earlier. As we close out, I want to play one more from AP U.S. history teacher Bob Ward, where we asked him, you know, what surprises you about what people don't know?

Laura Knoy:
He responded by saying, OK, there's always a lot more to learn, but he feels young people's understanding today is a little bit better. Let's hear.

Interview Sound:
I think there's a there's a constant there's a constant faith feeling that there isn't enough knowledge out there. But I think that's being remedied over overtime time. If you would ask the average student ten years ago what the significance of that date, 1619 was. I don't that very many people would know. But I think today it's become simply a part of are telling the story of America. And can I throw in a praise for the 1619 project which is made making so much material readily available to teachers and students that it's really a fantastic thing to be doing.

Laura Knoy:
And so there you have it. Nikita ending.

Nikita Stewart:
Yay we got endorsed, Thank you Bob.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and I want to let everybody know that there is a link on our Web site to that project. And boy, there's so much more that we could have talked about. And I have a lot more comments from listeners that I didn't have time to share. But it shows, I think, that people are interested in learning about this. And in talking about it. Nikita Stewart, thank you very much for your time. I know you're very busy. We really appreciate you coming on with us today.

Nikita Stewart:
Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed the discussion.

Laura Knoy:
It's Nikita Stewart, reporter for The New York Times. She wrote, "Why can't we teach slavery right in American schools," for the 1619 project. And JerriAnne Boggis. Always nice to see you. Thank you very much.

JerriAnne Boggis:
Thank you so much.

Laura Knoy:
It's JerriAnne Boggis, executive director of the Black Heritage Trail in New Hampshire and director of the Harriet Wilson Project. The Exchange is a production of New Hampshire Public Radio. The engineer is Dan Colgan. The senior producer is Ellen Grimm. The producers are Jessica Hunt and Christina Phillips. Our theme music was composed by Bob Lord.