FEATURED LESSON – A History of Criminalized Blackness in the United States (for Middle or High School)

94271An injustice against one of us is an injustice against all of us.

Black lives matter.

But here’s a sobering thought – at various early points in the history of our nation, certain people decided very consciously that they absolutely should not. And many of our modern institutions – from the police to the courts to the schools – were built on this cracked foundation.

The historical decisions that have shaped our moment are often invisible to us – like water to fish, we swim in the choices our ancestors have made.

But we when we realize that this is the case – that our reality is not set, but a sum total of historical choices – we become responsible for our own actions.

And then, we are truly free.

Here are a selection of free history lessons from our archives – suitable for middle or high school classrooms – that shed a light on our current moment. If you aren’t teaching lessons like these in your social studies classes, ask yourself – why not?

  • The Evolution of the Virginia Laws of Servitude and Slavery (1643-1691) – Read along as Virginia colonial officials criminalize blackness in real time. (primary source analysis with guided questions)
  • Comparing Slavery and Factory Life – Apologists for slavery often argued that, in their day at least, their system of slavery was better than free market capitalism.  Let’s put that to the test…  (primary source analysis with guided questions)
  • Were the Freedmen Really Free? – After the Civil War, Southerners sought to reconstruct slavery in everything but name. We are the direct inheritors of this system, which was only partly deconstructed in the 1950s and 60s. (primary source analysis with guided questions)
  • Social Reform Movements – Who Should Be the New Face of the $20 Bill? – Progress has always been earned, never granted. Give students the change to reimagine our national pantheon to include the social reformers and progressives who are often more responsible than any president or general for the way of life we cherish today. (research activity)

Two relevant chapters from our totally free, open source textbook The United States: An Open-Ended History:

  1. The Origins of Servitude and Slavery in Colonial America
  2. Gettysburg to Appomattox and Beyond: A New Birth of Freedom

Do you have other relevant lessons?  Share them – I would be honored to host them for free so that they can reach a wider audience!  Reach out to me here.


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Every lesson on Open Ended Social Studies features a free online text suited for middle or high school classroom use, guided reading questions, and suggested activities.  Use this page to navigate by country or region through our catalog of lessons.

These are the chapters your other world history textbook is missing:

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Become a Contributor

In this era of uninspired and tepid textbooks – when paint-by-numbers course materials generate big bucks for corporations with no real stake in fostering a new generation of curious, critical learners – the best way to ensure a good social studies curriculum is to write it ourselves.

Have a social studies lesson plan that would fit in well here?  Consider sharing it here for the benefit of students, teachers, and interested readers all over the world.  Openendedsocialstudies generates no profit – it exists solely to spread high quality lessons as far and as wide as possible.  You can make an important contribution to that mission.

Thanks for sharing so generously!