Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 16 pages.
In this role play, students become members of the American Anti-Slavery Society, facing many of the real challenges to ending slavery.
“Who here would have been against slavery if you suddenly found yourself living in those times?”
I’ve asked a version of this question to many U.S. history classes over the years.
Every student raises a hand.
“So what exactly would you have done to end slavery?”
Puzzled looks are generally the response to this question. What should we do, what can we do, when we are confronted by the enormity of an injustice like slavery? It’s not an easy question for my students, and it wasn’t an easy question for the people who opposed slavery in those times. The answers were struggled over in the abolition movement, one of the most significant social movements in U.S. history, but underappreciated in today’s history curriculum.
. . . .
I created a role play in which every student in class portrayed a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society (AASS). As the AASS, the class would encounter some of the difficult strategic choices that confronted the actual organization throughout its history. I’d be present as teacher to observe and take notes, but I would play no role in their deliberations. My hope was that students would taste a bit of the uncertainty but also the exhilaration that actual anti-slavery organizers experienced as they sought to abolish the greatest injustice of their time.
This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in an edition of Rethinking Schools magazine, “Saving Our Schools from Superheroes,” (Summer 2010). For more articles and lessons like “‘If There Is No Struggle…’: Teaching a People’s History of the Abolition Movement,” order Rethinking Schools magazine, “Saving Our Schools from Superheroes.” See Table of Contents.