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A compelling image juxtaposing an old history textbook and broken shackles, spotlighting the urgency to correct sanitized narratives about slavery in education.
<em>Sanitized narratives in American education distort the history of slavery and its crucial to set the record straight<em>

The Distorted Lens: How America’s Schools Are Failing to Teach the True History of Slavery

Unpacking the sanitized narratives in American education that distort the history of slavery, and why it’s crucial to set the record straight.

By Darius Spearman (africanelements)

About the author: Darius Spearman is a professor of Black Studies at San Diego City College, where he has been pursuing his love of teaching since 2007. He is the author of several books, including Between The Color Lines: A History of African Americans on the California Frontier Through 1890. You can visit Darius online at


The way slavery is taught in American schools is often distorted to fit a sanitized, uplifting narrative. This distortion not only misrepresents history but also perpetuates racial stereotypes. This article dives into the problematic aspects of teaching slavery in the U.S., using Florida’s revised academic standards as a case study.

“It is, instead, an example of how some Americans transform the racist history of this country into an uplifting – and sanitized – moral lesson.”

You can view this diagram in a new tab.

The above diagram, titled “The Evolution of Teaching Slavery in U.S. Schools,” serves as a visual timeline that tracks how the narrative around slavery has been taught in American educational institutions over the years. It highlights key moments where the narrative has either been distorted or corrected, providing a snapshot of the ongoing struggle to present an accurate and comprehensive history of slavery. The diagram aims to shed light on the systemic issues in education that contribute to the perpetuation of racial stereotypes and misinformation.

Florida’s Revised Academic Standards

Florida’s new academic standards have stirred the pot. The sentence that’s causing an uproar? “Instruction includes how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.” Public reaction has been swift, and even Vice President Kamala Harris has weighed in. Marvin Dunn, a professor at Florida International University, says, “That’s mean to say that to Black people that there was some advantage, some positive benefit to being enslaved. They weren’t even considered to be persons. So how could they have personal benefits?” (ABC News)

Switching Mechanisms: A Common Tactic

Switching mechanisms are narrative tools that transform a story about structural racism into a story about individual success. This tactic is not new; it has been used in places like Colonial Williamsburg to sanitize the history of slavery.

“Switching mechanisms such as these are hard to dislodge. They remake the worst parts of the American story into a story consonant with the American Dream.” (NewsOne)

The Impact: Perpetuating Stereotypes

By distorting the history of slavery, these narratives perpetuate harmful stereotypes and contribute to systemic racism. They also undermine the struggles of enslaved blacks in the Upper South and the ongoing fight for racial justice.


“In our view, that is not a story that many Americans want to tell, teach or hear.”


It’s crucial to challenge these distorted narratives to foster a more accurate and nuanced understanding of American history. This is not just about setting the historical record straight; it’s about acknowledging the lasting impact of slavery and its role in shaping modern-day racial inequalities.