Oscar-nominated ’12 Years a Slave’ to be distributed to Public high schools

Black History Month can be a wonderful celebration of the contributions that African Americans have made to American history and culture. Ideally, every month’s history curriculum should include those contributions of African-Americans. However, those contributions are praised only in February and seldom mentioned throughout the rest of the school year.

Curriculum developers, textbook writers, and educators try to work the African American experience into their U.S. History materials, but the ways that they do so (especially in older texts) only give small a small glimpse into Black History. Typically textbooks would have one or two paragraphs highlighting the importance of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth. Older courses and textbooks fall into one of three broad approaches: “Big Moments in African American History,” “Great Men and Women in African American History,” or “Add African Americans and Stir.”

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A more effective way to integrate the history of African Americans — and, in fact, of all Americans — into the curriculum is to teach various topics from their perspective. This shifts the focus of history toward ordinary Americans of various backgrounds and away from the powerful groups (typically, wealthy white men) that tend to dominate stories of the American past — and it makes history more relevant and interesting to all students.

Kids are used to hearing about the story of Rosa Parks, Sojurner Truth and Martin Luther King Jr. Every Feburary teachers have students read books like Roots and Uncle Tom’s Cabin to learn about slavery in high school. Now films are being added to the curriculum.

Best Picture nominee 12 Years a Slave, to be exact. Beginning in September, public high schools may begin showing the film and distributing the book it was based on. Talk show host Montel Williams coordinated this initiative, saying in a press statement, “When Hollywood is at its best, the power of the movies can be harnessed into a powerful educational tool.”

The National School Boards Association announced their partnership with Penguin Books, New Regency, and 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen on their website this weekend. In the statement, McQueen says, “Since first reading 12 Years a Slave, it has been my dream that this book be taught in schools.”
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The film follows Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a formerly free man who is kidnapped and sold into slavery.The film gives insight into Northup’s life as a slave, where he meets Patsey (Best Supporting Actress nominee Lupita Nyong’o) and suffers the wrath of plantation owners. It’s based on a book of the same name, a memoir by Northup himself. “Allowing students to see the tragic circumstances and messages conveyed through these works are vital to learning and reflection on our nation’s era of slavery,” said NSBA’s executive director Thomas J. Gentzel in the statement.

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If you havent seen the film 12 Years a Slave, check out the official trailer below to see a glimpse of what your children will soon be seeing in the classroom.

Would you appose this to be taught to your children in school? Are there any other books/films you think should be added to the high school curriculum? There are various ways to bring up African American topics to students, so tell me why did you think Solomon Northup’s story would make a good book for kids? Perhaps “12 Years a Slave” be the next “Diary of Anne Frank”: a literary and big screen hit that translates well into the classroom?