History Classes Should be Spaces of Empowerment instead of a Politicized Battlefield

On January 8, 1811, the largest slave insurrection in the history of the United States unfolded. I showed my students a piece of art depicting this when I taught what is now known as the 1811 German Coast Uprising. Despite it happening just outside New Orleans, where I teach, many students were unaware of this event. One kid noted that it was peculiar that this occurred so close to home yet remained relatively unknown. I told her that most textbooks or curricula often exclude the event. Another student raised his hand to ask, “why not?”

[1811 Revolt (Lorraine Gendron, 2000), Courtesy Historic New Orleans Collection]

Folks can speculate on why these events are neglected, but the impact of pushing these stories of resilience to the margins is clear: students suffer. As a history teacher, it’s imperative to teach this country’s history — scars and all. To teach a romanticized, comfortable version of our country’s history does our kids a grave disservice, as it denies both the truth and an opportunity to see examples of empowerment. When we teach how the US has fallen short of its professed ideals, we also highlight those who sought to rectify those shortcomings.

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