When it comes to the history of slavery in the U.S., the central role it played in shaping the country and its continued impact on race relations, students don’t know much.

In fact, only 8 percent of high school seniors can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War, according to a report released Thursday by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

But don’t blame the students. As the report shows, schools aren’t including it in curriculums, teachers aren’t prepared to teach it and textbooks don’t include enough material about it.

Continue reading:  Students Don’t Know Slavery Was a Central Cause of the Civil War, Report Shows

Commentary by The Secular Jurist:  I believe the issue here is twofold.  It’s not that school textbooks are factually incorrect or that educators are purposely avoiding the connection to slavery;  but, rather, it’s because that very connection to slavery is not explicitly addressed in the U.S. Constitution prior to the Civil War, and that its significance requires a level of critical understanding which neither can be expected of most primary school students nor from all primary school educators.  In other words, it’s a difficult subject better suited to secondary education.  This is why college is so vital to an informed and engaged citizenry.

Thoroughly examining two commonly given reasons for the Civil War, states’ rights and the different economic systems of the North and South, reveal the underlying cause of slavery.  The debate over states’ rights during the 1787 Constitutional Convention (which had begun earlier under the Articles of Confederation) ended with the Three-Fifths Compromise which was concerned with the institution of slavery as well as the legal status of indigenous peoples (it was superseded by the 13th and 14th amendments).  Furthermore, the Nullification Crisis of 1832 was concerned with trade tariffs (supported by the industrial North and opposed by the agricultural South) which would not have been discordant without the institution of slavery.

20 thoughts on “Students Don’t Know Slavery Was a Central Cause of the Civil War, Report Shows

  1. Out of interest, if kids were made fully aware do you think it would honestly have a positive impact on Race Relations in the US? Or anywhere else that slavery was practiced, for that matter?

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    • Yes, I do – just as parents teaching their children racist behavior has a negative impact on race relations. However, explaining the complex topic of racism to children is obviously problematic. The best course of action, IMO, is desegregation and for schools to treat all students equally without regard to race and other superficial differences. Then, in high school and college, the topic can be explored more thoroughly.

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    • Thanks, John. Sometimes people are too quick to see bad intent where more subtle causes are responsible – as I believe is the case here. We all know the primal emotional drivers of racism, but we are far less knowledgeable about the actual social mechanisms which perpetrate it. The latter is beyond the comprehension of most children, IMO.

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    • While it is true that white supremacists and their sympathizers continue attempts to rewrite America’s racial history, I believe there is a more fundamental problem of awareness with respect to educating children. Please see my reply to John Fioravanti.

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