Guiding Question: What do I know? And, how do I know it?

An opportunity to:

  • (re)claim lost, unrealized, unrecognized history as it pertains to Slavery and Emancipation
  • integrate missing histories into your family’s common awareness
  • connect themes from the past to patterns we see today

History is an imperfect social science

Many of us are taught that history is a chronicle of events - a record of things that have happened in the past, not quite as concrete as math but more certain than, say, psychology or literature. The truth is far more complicated. History is incomplete. History is biased. It is revisionist. It is often lost. It is present. It is predictive. History is truly a social science and our teaching of it is as flawed as the timeline itself.

Knowing this can be overwhelming, however. If so much is unknown and needs to relearned then where do we even start? When we feel this way, we have to remind ourselves that what’s most important is nurturing curiosity and making space for multiple stories. We’ve created these 8 guidelines to help you more easily wade into the slipstream.

Guidelines for Your Work Together With Your Children:

1. Curiosity, not completeness, is the goal. Developing a complete recounting is unlikely. Don’t worry about how many details you acquire and impart, instead focus on inquiry and conversation.

2. Starting with the basics doesn't mean you have to shortchange the truth. A. Slavery endured for a long time in the United States, and was abolished more recently than many often credit. B. Slavery was brutal. C. Slavery was about labor and establishing our country's economic dominance and promise.

3. Delight in the joy of discovery. History can be cool and fascinating. Follow your children’s questions this month and discover unknown facts, people and stories. This helps to avoid the “boring but important” sentiment.

4. Use multi-media. Where possible supplement your story time conversations with images, videos and audio recordings. These resources can bring distant times, people and places alive and make concepts more concrete for kids.

5. Be examples of truth and honesty for your children (taken from a sign at the entrance of a local institution, The Griot Museum of Black History). Aspects of American history are heartbreaking and defy easy answers. Sanitizing it doesn’t do anyone any favors. Show courage and share your own sadness when you feel it. By doing so you will give your children permission to do the same.

6. Connect the content to your children. Ask them to stretch their empathetic imagination...What would it be like to experience the particulars of the stories they are reading? How did slavery impact family life for enslaved people? What might they have done as a white person if they were living during the era of slavery? What do we see in our lives today that is packaged as "just the way it is", although we know it is wrong?

7. Connect the content to today. If we look for it, we can find remnants of the past throughout contemporary life. It can be tempting to present terrible events in history as divorced from the realities of today – try to resist the ‘that was then, this is now’ approach. Injustice and racial disparities persist and continue to cost our region and its citizens a great deal. Connecting these stories to present day issues helps reinforce the importance and the urgency of our work together.

8. Connect to the story of hope and help. As Mister Roger advises, “look for the helpers.” There have always been Americans fighting for equity. America’s promise of freedom and equality is big and bold and worth fighting for, even if we are still falling short. The vision and working towards it is something to be proud of, and a terrific legacy to share with your children.