1619 Project: Elliott & Hughes

In another post, I spotlight Nikita Stewart’s concern that our schools are not teaching the history of slavery adequately or appropriately. One resource that might help is provided by Mary Elliott and Jazmine Hughes, entitled: “Four hundred years after enslaved Africans were first brought to Virginia, most Americans still don’t know the full story of slavery.”

While Stewart’s article discusses the challenge and gaps in our teaching, this report is primarily a resource, moving through a chronology of events and images of artifacts, perhaps not surprising since one of the authors is curator of American slavery at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

It is worth bookmarking this resource. If you teach or have children, this would be a resource to read and discuss with them.

Rather than quoting lines from this brief history, I just appreciate the multiple examples of “Continual Resistance” that have to be part of our understanding of the history of slavery. I especially valued two stories that were unfamiliar to me– that of Elizabeth Freeman better known as Mum Bett and that of Queen Njinga. I have added them to my list of sheroes.

One other note: I mentioned earlier that I am appreciative to lessons in how to use language to talk about these topics. In this article, I saw the phrase enslaved people used rather than slave, and enslaver rather than slave owner. I am guessing that may be preferred language, which makes a lot of sense.

1619 Project: Stewart

For some reason, I had difficulty finding this article the first few times I tried. I think perhaps I kept clicking on another worthy article, that I will discuss in my next post. So feel free to use the link below in case you have trouble reaching it, too.

Nikita Stewart’s article is entitled “‘We are committing educational malpractice’: Why slavery is mistaught –and worse–in American schools.” She discusses the failure to teach the history of slavery adequately and/or accurately in our school systems, which resonated for me both because I have already complained about the fairy tales that are perpetuated in our society and because I used to teach middle school, (I lasted four years–during which one of my goals was to improve my ability to teach history, including taking a NC History class at Appalachian State and learned, for the first time, about the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot).

Here’s the link:

She covers some important ground in this article, both what has gone wrong and ideas for change. Her closing words stand out, after recounting the stories her grandfather told:

He wanted listeners to understand the horror of the institution, even if he was too afraid to condemn it outright. For me, it’s a reminder of what our schools fail to do: bring this history alive, using stories like these to help us understand the evil our nation was founded on. (Stewart)


Joshua worked hard today.

Joshua worked hard today.

Signed–Ms. Duke

Did he really? I honestly can’t remember as I write this note. In middle school, each day is a ride on a cheap Ferris wheel with the speed set too high, punctuated by unsettling sights and rattling noises. 

But I’m not feeling frustrated with Joshua at the moment, and I don’t see his name written down somewhere with a dozen angry tick marks that mean I need to send him to detention or take away some petty privilege–the heady freedom of going to the hall for a sip of water, for example–or have a pseudo heart-to-heart.

Could he work harder? Probably. He’s likely a genius, and I’m not doing my job as a teacher when I don’t hound him every time he inhales a fresh breath. 

Yesterday I called his mother, again. Her solution, surprise surprise, was for me to stop to write a note in his planner each day. Perfect.

Most parents make me feel everything is my fault, and I worry they are right. I created the lesson plans. I signed the teaching contract. And long ago, I sat in education classes and dreamed of reaching struggling students. 

What was I thinking then? It’s hard to remember now. Something about being there for these kids when it was the hardest. Funny, too, I thought maybe I could help young girls in particular gain confidence. Yet here I am devoting so much energy to Joshua, and just feeling grateful that Mary is quiet, pretending to do her work.

Is she pretending? I don’t know. I wish I could know when the assignments are too hard, too easy, or Goldilocks just right, the perfect match for each child. Not one lesson, but thirty, for kids wiggling out of their seats, and almost out of their skins. It feels as if we fail more often than we succeed, but especially me and Joshua. I sense he will leave this class when summer comes, and it will be as if this year never happened, so much energy lost and hopes discarded.

But he seems okay right now. I don’t feel upset with him, and I see almost two paragraphs of new writing on his paper that is only a little shredded on the edges, so it’s probably true: he has worked hard today.

–previously published on a now defunct website around 2009

image of the book The Fifth Risk

Reading notes: The Fifth Risk

What is most remarkable about Michael Lewis’s The Fifth Risk is not that he makes us aware of more ways that the installation of a U.S. administration indifferent to the responsibilities of government is a threat to our safety and long term security but that he provides such a readable explanation of the workings of our federal agencies. As someone who has worked in state government first as a school teacher and later as a university staff member, I relished this celebration of the ways many people in these systems care deeply about what they are doing (or cared… apparently the folks now in charge of making sure our nuclear weapons don’t accidentally explode are sleeping on the jobs, and others are looking for a way to sell to the highest bidders little things like access to taxpayer-funded tornado warnings).

In my experience, the cultural assumption that there is no way that anything we were doing works or that we even knew what we were doing was far more harmful than some of the quirks of bureaucratic systems. Indeed, I even observed coworkers complain about the need for change as a given without recognizing that by complaining about the system as a monolith, they interrupted the power they actually had to contribute to our success. Worse, some would ignore what was working well and focus only on what somehow didn’t fit their usually unrealistic vision of a humans-can-be-treated-as-robots system in which everything runs like clockwork.

Not that I have an opinion on this.

As frightening as his topic could be (really, it feels as if any day we aren’t destroyed by reckless indifference, ignorance, and greed is a miracle), I embraced the chance to learn more about these dry topics in a way that wasn’t dry at all. I especially liked learning about individuals who care more about what they do than how much money they can make. Unsung heroes, yes, and role models of what it means to truly succeed.