Black history is not being taught properly in U.S. schools

By Hayley Thompson
July 9, 2020


According to The New York Times, all states are not required to meet the academic content standards for social studies and American history, unlike the requirements for math and reading. Black history and slavery are not being taught properly in schools and outdated textbooks are still being used.

States like Illinois and Florida have issued state laws on teaching black history in their schools. The laws require that African American contributions to U.S. history and the socio-economic struggles they experienced during the slave trade be a part of the schools’ curriculum.

However, state legislators in Florida claim that there are no consequences for the schools that do not teach black history adequately. State lawmaker and member of Florida’s legislative black caucus, Geraldine Thompson, spoke to the Florida Phoenix about this issue: “People are confusing celebrations and events and activities with instruction.” She asked local educators what they taught in regards to black history and they answered that they celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday. Celebrating MLK and Black History Month may be commendable, but it does not fulfill the requirements of black history in the school curriculum. This has been in Florida law for over 25 years and no one is being held accountable.

In 2017, the Southern Poverty Law Center surveyed more than 1,700 U.S. social studies teachers, 1,000 U.S. high school seniors and inspected 12 popular U.S. history books to try and understand how black history is being taught and what is being learned by American students. According to The New York Times, here are their findings:

  • “There was widespread slavery illiteracy among students.
  • More than a third thought the Emancipation Proclamation formally ended slavery. (It was actually the 13th Amendment)
  • Nearly 60 percent of teachers did not believe their textbook’s coverage of slavery was adequate.”
  • A panel made up of the center’s staff, an independent education researcher with a background in middle school and high school education and a U.S. history professor with expertise in the history of slavery looked at how the 12 textbooks depicted enslavement. They evaluated the 12 textbooks with a 30-point rubric.
    • “On average, the textbooks received a failing grade of 46 percent.”

There is a horrible underlying truth to African American history and generations of educators have been unwilling to teach it in full because of fears of disturbing children. They are teaching about the “good” people who escaped to freedom but aren’t teaching about why they had to escape and why they were protesting in the first place.

It is important to know that black American history is American history. Students need to be taught about how slavery shaped the country and the lasting effects that it still has to this day, as well as how black Americans contributed to this country.

Photo by Naval History and Heritage Command

The New York Times has created The 1619 Project in hopes to “reframe the country’s history by putting the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of our national narrative.” This project explores the plentiful contributions of black Americans throughout U.S. history, explaining that no aspect of the country has been untouched by black Americans and that a lot of aspects we all love today would not exist without them.

To reframe American history, we must acknowledge the year 1619, when the first slaves were brought to America, as the nation’s birth year and not 1776. 

The mission of The 1619 Project is to reframe American history by educating Americans on true U.S. black history and to give educators the resources to teach it to their students. An editor’s note at the beginning of this project reads: “American history cannot be told truthfully without a clear vision of how inhuman and immoral the treatment of black Americans has been. By acknowledging this shameful history, by trying hard to understand its powerful influence on the present, perhaps we can prepare ourselves for a more just future.”

The New York Times has created a free curriculum for educators to use while teaching black history in their classrooms. Curriculums, guides and activities for students developed by the Pulitzer Center can be found here for free.

These resources include lesson plans, summaries of all of the articles, an index of the historical terms used, suggested creative activities to engage students and opportunities to connect with The New York Times journalists from the project:

The printed version of The 1619 Project (.PDF)

The 1619 Project on

Free curriculum and lesson plans for educators teaching black history

To learn more about the inequities in the U.S. school system, go to Education Equity for All.

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Hayley Thompson

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