I consider myself lucky to work in a History Department that reflects seriously on pedagogy and has command of their respective subject areas. Today I decided to share the opening of chapter 7 in Edward Baptists new book, which as you know I’ve been reading and commenting on over the past few weeks. We talked quite a bit about it and at one point the question of whether it is appropriate for our classrooms arose.
The question raised a number of potential red flags related to parental concerns and how the text might be introduced in a high school history classroom. One of the other issues was the maturity level of some of our students. Would they be able to take it seriously and would it be too much of a distraction?
One suggestion was that the text could be used as part of a broader discussion of how historians, filmmakers and other writers have worked to capture the horrors of slavery. I don’t know if my juniors are ready for such an approach to the subject, but my senior elective course is filled with some incredibly bright and mature students and I have no doubt that they would approach the Baptist text in a productive way. The idea of situating the Baptist text alongside a couple of scenes from 12 Years A Slave and a passage from say a Toni Morrison novel might make for a fruitful little unit. Such a move might give students a better sense of what Baptist is trying to do with his preferred refrain.
What do you think about this idea? What sources would you include to highlight how historians, writers, filmmakers and artists have approached the violence of slavery?