How slavery should be taught

The current backlash against Critical Race Theory in K–12 schools has been mischaracterized as an attempt to ban teaching about slavery.  Actually, the proper teaching of the history of slavery undermines CRT.  Few other topics, when deeply understood, reveal the moral and economic evolution of Western civilization more than does the topic of slavery and the West's crushing of it.

Students need to know that slavery has been nearly universal.  Slavery can be found throughout the world and in every era, including in Africa, well before the Europeans ever attached themselves to this already well-established system practiced on members of rival tribes.  Slavery also flourished in the Americas long before Columbus arrived.

Many American students are taught about the trans-Atlantic African slave trade.  However, most have never learned that there was an extensive slave trade that went east to the Arabian Peninsula and north to the Ottoman Empire.  The barbarism of slavery practiced in Arabia and the Ottoman frequently accompanied the brutality of castration of male slaves from Africa and Europe.  Even learned people are unaware of the slave route from Europe to Africa.  As many as a million Europeans were kidnapped and sold into slavery to work in the mines and brothels of North Africa as well as in the galley ships of the Ottoman Empire.  If high school students don't know this, it's because it isn't taught.

It is imperative to teach that not only was slavery a moral atrocity, but it was an economic disaster compared to free labor in free markets.

Brazil and the Caribbean islands received over 90% of slaves in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.  The U.S. received only 3%, and almost none went to Canada.  Based on this, it is clear that the history of slavery is the basis for relative national poverty as opposed to wealth.  In the New World, the nations receiving fewer slaves have been far richer than nations receiving the most slaves: Brazil and Cuba.  Among Latin American nations, those less reliant on slavery — Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile — evolved into more affluent societies than those more dependent on it.  Even within nations, the regions with fewer or no slaves were historically richer than those regions with slavery.  The lingering wealth gap between the American North and the South shows that slavery was not only brutal but also impoverishing for regional economies.

The moral clarity of the British and then American abolition movements led to the end of slavery not only in the U.S. and the British Empire but throughout much of the world.  Starting in 1807, the British Royal Navy was effectively deployed to effectually end the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The American Abolition Movement culminated in the Civil War, with hundreds of thousands of Americans from the Union being killed and wounded, in part, to end slavery.  Contrast this with Saudi Arabia's abolition of slavery in 1962 and its current persistence in parts of the Muslim world to this day.

A high school reading list should include 12 Years a Slave, the harrowing personal account of an American black man kidnapped from the North and enslaved in Louisiana for a dozen years.

It should also include the work of Thomas Sowell:

Everyone hated the idea of being a slave but few had any qualms about enslaving others. Slavery was just not an issue, not even among intellectuals, much less among political leaders, until the 18th century — and then it was an issue only in Western civilization. Among those who turned against slavery in the 18th century were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and other American leaders. You could research all of the 18th century Africa or Asia or the Middle East without finding any comparable rejection of slavery there. But who is singled out for scathing criticism today? American leaders of the 18th century.

It's not that the current curriculum focuses too much on slavery; it's that it's taught in a blinkered way to adhere to an anti-West and anti-white narrative.  Properly taught, the history of modern slavery illustrates Western civilization's moral, political and economic triumph.

Randy Boudreaux is an attorney in New Orleans.

Image: Public Domain

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