Amistad Commissions Teach Kids about Slavery

Article excerpt

A quietly growing trend in American education makes it the business of state-appointed panels to decide how African American history and culture are being taught in public schools. These panels, known as Amistad Commissions, aim to ensure that the history and legacy of slavery are not neglected in the classroom.

Four states - New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and New York - have official Amistad Commissions. Other states, such as California, mandate that the public school history curriculum include teaching about slavery in America, but do not have an Amistad, or other-named, commission to direct or oversee such instruction, according to Jennifer Dounay, a policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States in Denver.

In 2002, New Jersey introduced the country's first Amistad Commission, naming it in honor of slaves who were held captive aboard the ship in 1839 and overthrew their captors.

Last year, lawmakers in Illinois and New York also created Amistad Commissions. In Connecticut, where the Amistad trial was held, the commission is working with the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism to establish a Freedom Trail that would recognize sites "associated with the history and movement towards freedom of its African-American citizens, the Underground Railroad and the abolition of slavery."

Amistad commissioners, selected by state officials, use three-year terms to evaluate existing curricula, catalog public resources dedicated to African American history, and advise curriculum experts, textbook authors and museum officials, among others. …