Tonight I read an article about how a teacher used hands on, unorthodox methods to teaching Slavery in Schools
I used to work in Education and was lucky enough to visit Liverpool’s Maritime Museum with a school trip of 7th grade students. Despite hearing rave reviews about the museum (also know as the slavery museum) I thought the experience in itself was poor.
For me, the museum was laid out all wrong, there was no sense of beginning middle and end, it was merely a collection of artefacts surrounded by facts. I was Bored, the kids were bored.
What’s the best way to Teach about Slavery?
When we got back to school, the teacher was asking the kids about what they saw, they asked me to assist because I was the I.T Instructor, and they had to create presentations on the PC. I couldn’t believe how disengaged the kids were, they literally had no understanding of what had happened in slavery. The worksheet asked them what the triangular trade was, but no one knew.
I decided to shake things up a bit. I split the class into two groups.
Group one I sent out into the corridor to await further instruction. Group two stayed in the classroom. I told them to elect a leader. Every student had to take a role, of man woman or child. They had to pretend that they were a village. This basically consisted of them standing around talkig to each other. (Which in this instance was fine).
I went out to Group 1, I told them that they were to be a group of slavers. They had to go into the classroom and take over. This was all stage managed by me to avoid total chaos. I acted as an intervening narrator/Drama director.
The slavers came in to the room and started shouting, yelling and generally being aggressive. The villagers were scared and shocked. I stepped into avoid confrontation and explained to the whole class what had just happened.You could see that for the first time, the kids were actually interested.
I explained that the slavers had just come in and taken over the village. I tasked them to seperate the men, women and children, this happened quite quickly and the villagers complied. I asked the villagers how they might feel if this happened to them today. What would they do?
Of course, a lot of kids said “Fight sir, we’d fight” again, I explained that many villages would have fought back but pointed out that the Slavers generally had one major advantage and that was guns.
Continuing the narrative, I told the villagers “You are all tied or in chains, naked, infront of your neighbours. men seperated from women” old people often killed”. I explained that often people would be marched many miles away from the village.
The kids began to ask questions like, what are you going to do with us. “Where are we going?”
Once I had explained that they would be put onto ships and taken to the Americas, they seemed happy, not thinking that it wasn’t the America they are familiar with today. I reminded them. “You are no longer free“.
The Middle Passage
To illustrate conditions on the ship, I made them lie down on the floor next to each other, all packed in. Again some students were flippant. Until I again reminded them, “you are chained” no one person can move away from the others. I asked the student’s what happens to some people when they get on a boat on the sea? Immediately someone shouted “seasick sir,” . This prompted someone to ask ”what do you do when you want a wee or a poo sir”,. she didn’t like the answer. “you have to go, right where you are”. They didn’t like that much. Then I told them that, the voyage would have lasted several months. They were lying on rough planks, many people would have gotten sick.
they asked me what would have happened once they got to america or the Caribbean. I explained that they would all have been slit up into lots and sold like cattle. Husbands and wives, mothers and children, brothers and sisters all split up. I asked them to imagine what it would be like to be split up from their families, and friends and to most likely never see them again.
At this Point I decided that my part was done, I noticed that some of the girls were quite upset at the very thought of this…I’d gotten them engaged, they wanted to know about slavery, and why this happened, I handed back to the teacher, and it was a different class.
Teaching Slavery should be more interactive
In my opinion, Teaching Slavery should be more interactive. Kids are simply never going to be interested in a lot of dates and facts without being able to put it into context. Some people may criticise my methods, but most kid’s today just cannot conceive an event of such enormity without strong narrative.
Sadly, the Slavery Museum did not provide a clear explanation of how slavery had begun, nor how it must have affected the people taken as slaves, or those who did the slaving. The museum could have led the visitors through an engaging timeline, detailing the middle passage with mockups of ships, actors to illustrate the conditions.
The tour could then conclude with the after effects of slavery, and the world we see today. The core components are there already, I just feel they could be layed out more effectively.
Raising Awareness of Slavery
By leading people through each stage, it would make the experience more interactive and visitors could not miss the detail. The Slavery Museum should have the same effect as the Holocaust Museums. This is how I think we could spread greater knowledge aout the transatlantic slave trade. Let’s face it people are woefully ignorant.
One girl in the class had a Jamaican parent. I was talking about the after effects of slavery, pointing out that many black people who live in Britain today have Caribbean ancestry and that those ancestors are directly descended from African slaves. She was incredulous, stating that “I’m not African, I’m jamaican”. Sad really.
- Teaching Slavery FAQ
- Black History 4 Schools – Trans Atlantic Slavery resources for Teachers
- The Guardian – Teaching Slavery