This is an excerpt from the magazine of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. I thought this was an interesting way of trying to broach such a difficult topic with young students. The site also includes a short list of teaching tips as well as more information about the sample coursework described below.
Organizations like the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation are committing much of their efforts to getting the message out to young people about slavery today. They are teaming with educators to teach students about its current forms, and get students motivated to share their newfound awareness.
Elizabeth Devine is a social studies teacher at William H. Hall High School in West Hartford, Connecticut. She includes a three-week unit covering human trafficking and modern-day slavery in her one-semester course on human rights.
Devine’s unit features films, books and guest speakers to help students relate to and engage the material. She introduces the topic with scenes from the film Human Trafficking, a fictionalized look at the sex trade in Eastern Europe. She invites experts, such as a federal prosecutor who presided over a local human trafficking case, into the classroom. “The kids couldn’t believe [human trafficking] was happening here,” Devine says.
Her curriculum also includes excerpts from Sold, Patricia McCormick’s account of a young Nepalese girl who was purchased by an Indian brothel. The class views segments of the PBS series The New Heroes, which features vignettes of individuals around the world fighting modern-day slavery. Students’ perspectives expand from the individual to the systemic when they read Kevin Bales’ book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy.
“No doubt it’s provocative,” says Devine, named the 2009–2010 Secondary Teacher of the Year by the National Council of Social Studies. “The high school students can handle it. And I don’t give them titillating things about sex to read. We focus on the difficulties faced by the women.”
The more students investigate, the more they recognize the economic underpinnings of human trafficking. They learn that wherever there is greed and vulnerable people, conditions exist for turning humans into slaves.
Devine guides students in tracking their own attitudes and perspectives as they explore the mini-unit. She has them keep a “dialectical journal,” synthesizing ideas from in-class discussions with their own ideas and personal responses to texts and videos.
To create the journal, students separate a page into two columns. On the left, they record the facts and concepts included in the text or video, including quotations and descriptions of material that affected them. In the right-hand column, they jot down their own thoughts, questions and insights. “They do it after everything we see or read, so they are constantly reflecting on what they learn,” Devine says.
The unit culminates in an “action project.” These projects ask students to research an issue, then perform a related project in the community. Last year, two girls teamed up to collect backpacks and toiletries for women who had been rescued from traffickers and were living in a safe house.