The following is the second part of a discussion by Bethany Jay, Assistant Professor of History,
at Salem State University in Massachusetts.
Teaching about Slavery with EDSITEment resources by Professor Bethany Jay
EDSITEment also allows teachers to move beyond the familiar voices of slavery through “Slave Narratives: Constructing U.S. History Through Analyzing Slave Narratives.” Aimed at grades nine through twelve, this lesson plan engages students in serious historical investigation by introducing them to the varied and multiple experiences of slavery and emancipation found in the WPA slave narratives from the Documenting the American South website. Once again, this lesson plan removes a lot of the grueling research for teachers by offering a selection of ten different narratives that are appropriate for high school students. In addition, the lesson plan has offers several different strategies that will help students at varying levels to effectively summarize the documents and consider the benefits and limitations of oral histories. In this way, the lesson plan provides a complex introduction to the history of slavery for students in a way that does justice to the complexity of slavery while building essential skills. Without the direction that the EDSITEment lesson provides, I imagine that many teachers would be daunted by the prospect of locating the resources and identifying strategies to attempt such a complex lesson in their classroom.
These lesson plans build important historical thinking skills. EDSITEment also offers many interdisciplinary lessons, bringing together literature and history. A particularly impressive unit plan for high school students examines three chapters of Frederick Douglass’ autobiography as both a work of literature and a historical artifact. Upon completion of the unit plan, students will become familiar with the literary elements of the autobiography such as the use of persuasion, repetition, imagery, and irony while learning about many important aspects of slavery such as the dehumanization of slavery, the importance of slave spirituals, and the master-slave relationship. A similar lesson plan utilizes the same approach with the Narrative of William W. Brown, which is available as an electronic text through EDSITEment – an important fact for districts and teachers with limited resources. Other interdisciplinary lesson plans include examinations of Saint-Gauden’s Massachusetts 54th monument, slave families, and even the Blues. This selection of lessons creates opportunities for collaboration across a variety of different disciplines such as English, Art, and Music. In doing so, it allows students to more fully appreciate the ways that slavery has influenced American culture. Perhaps even more importantly from a logistical standpoint, these interdisciplinary lessons allow teachers to integrate historical investigation with preparation for high-stakes tests. In Massachusetts, for example, history teachers have expressed that their discipline is getting little consideration and resources from district administrations because the state’s mandatory tests focus on language arts and math. Interdisciplinary lessons like those examining the Frederick Douglass and William White narratives build reading comprehension and analytical skills that are essential to these high stakes tests while also providing sophisticated insight into American history.
 See “Slave Narratives: Constructing US History Through Analyzing Primary Sources,” EDSITEment, http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/slave-narratives-constructing-us-history-through-analyzing-primary-sources (accessed January 2, 2012). The WPA slave narratives were collected in the 1930s by workers from the Federal Writers’ Project. While the context of their creation in the Jim Crow south make them problematic sources, they remain the best resources for understanding the experiences of “average” slaves.
 See “From Courage to Freedom,” EDSITEment, http://edsitement.neh.gov/search?query=courage+to+freedom (accessed January 2, 2012).
 See “Perspective on the Slave Narrative,” EDSITEment, http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/perspective-slave-narrative (accessed January 2, 2012).
 See “The Massachusetts 54th Regiment: Honoring the Heroes,” EDSITEment, http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/massachusetts-54th-regiment-honoring-heroes (accessed January 2, 2012); “Families in Bondage,” EDSITEment, http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/families-bondage (accessed January 2, 2012); “Learning the Blues,” EDSITEment, http://edsitement.neh.gov/lesson-plan/learning-blues (accessed January 2, 2012).