Teens Stand Up as Abolitionists

Two years ago, when I was teaching 11th grade English, my students were discussing The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano , a slave narrative. The excerpt we were discussing described the terrible voyage of Equiano to America on a slave ship as a young African captive in the 18th century.  One of my 17 year old  students blurted out a comment, saying,

“I don’t understand slavery. I mean, how could people be so cruel to one another?”

I spontaneously replied,

“Oh, there has always been slavery. It has existed throughout history. It existed in ancient times. We read about it in the Bible during the time of Moses. We read about it in the New Testament in the writings of St. Paul, and we even see it in the world today. It has never been totally abolished.”

I was rather startled at my own response, and I think I startled my students as well. So that evening, when I got home, I began to investigate modern  slavery more thoroughly. I discovered a wealth of information.  There are numerous books on the topic. http://www.amazon.com/Crime-Monstrous-Face—Face-Modern-Day/dp/0743290089/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1325079106&sr=1-2 But for a quick understanding of the reality, I turned to  ABC News online. They  had recently spent a week reporting on How to  Buy a Child and there were numerous videos posted showing how disturbingly easy it was for one of their reporters to purchase a Haitian girl for less than the cost of a television! (Unfortunately these no longer seem to be available at their website.)

The real prize, however was this video of Good Morning America’s Robin Roberts interviewing a 15 year old teenager named Zach Hunter who has taken up the cause of modern slavery.


Zach said that according to Amnesty International, there are more than 27 million slaves in the world today—more than at any other time in human history! (I have since heard other figures ranging from 27-32 million.) I  modified my lesson plans for the next day and decided to show my students this interview with Zach instead.  A few days later, I was delighted to learn that our school not only had an Amnesty International Club, but we also  had a chapter of Zach’s non-profit organization, Loose Change to Loosen Chains. I encouraged my students to check out these extra-curricular activities, and several chose to do so.

Later in the year, I was able to incorporate this real life issue into our curriculum as we studied the writings of another abolitionist, Henry David Thoreau. For that unit, I asked my students to keep a journal (as Thoreau did); and one of the options they had for a journal reflection was to attend a meeting of the Loose Change to Loosen Chains chapter at our school and write about what they learned from attending.

As a teacher of American literature, I find that students often question the relevance of the literature they are required to study.  Sadly, the topic  of slavery is not an irrelevant issue in today’s English classroom.   But if teachers and students begin to recognize that slavery is a contemporary reality, perhaps it WILL become a blessedly irrelevant topic.  I long for that day.


Filed under Abolition, Education, United Methodist

22 responses to “Teens Stand Up as Abolitionists

  1. Welcome to the blogging world, Holly! Glad to see your voice and experience gain a new medium.

    I’m with you, I long for the day when slavery is irrelevant.

    You raise an interesting point about students clamoring for relevance in their literature. Sadly, I suspect it isn’t just students: seems like many (even most?) people become hard core pragmatists, only interested in pursuits that directly translate into a money-making job.

    Yet, it seems to me that literature has, does, and will continue to teach us a lot about how to be human.

    Thanks for your work, keep on writing!


  2. I am now a subscriber! I’m so proud of you and what you’re doing. Your passion in 140 characters is infectious and I’m so glad you’re sharing because you’ve brought meaning and passion into the classroom. I hope you’ll keep sharing what you’re doing! I’m now a subscriber. This will be on my blog in the morning. Great work!


    • Thank you for your support, Vicki. I have been a follower of your blog and tweets for some time now, and I admire what YOU do. As a student in the e-learning program at UCF, your posts have often been a resource for my class work.


      • It always makes me nervous when I’m an assignment. I think the biggest difference between me and the textbooks is that I struggle every day with being a better teacher. I always picture textbook writers as just being these perfect people. I hope no one ever thinks that of me. We’re all just trying to do a good job. Now, I’m not a resource, I’m a friend and an admirer of yours. Use your platform well to help others. It is a big responsibility to have people who choose to read what you write but you will shoulder it well if we can tell anything from your great tweets. Thank you for adding your voice to the edublogosphere.


        • Sometimes in my work as a student of e-learning at UCF, I feel like I’m riding a rodeo bull as I try to deal with all this new-fangled tech stuff. I love the adventure of it though, and I love collaborating with other teachers, techies, and pastors. I haven’t used a text book in any of my classes so far. Everything is now on-line. It is a new world. My struggle to adjust is reflected by the “theme” on my blog. It is decorated with old fashioned books just like my house. Someday I’ll get a kindle and a smart phone…


  3. Good for you! Unless we teach people about contemporary slavery, they will not realize it’s such a serious problem.


    • Exactly Craig! Teaching about modern slavery and injustice is common ground for educators and preachers. The general silence on this topic is deafening both in the church and in school. President Obama has declared January 11th as Human Trafficking Day. I hope both the church and schools will use this opportunity to begin the discussion. (I plan additional posts on this topic.)


  4. Holly, thanks for raising awareness on a subject that most are oblivious to. I look forward to reading your blog, sharing it out with others, and advocating with you along the way! I found this on GBCS’ site: http://www.umc-gbcs.org/site/apps/nl/content3.asp?c=frLJK2PKLqF&b=3631781&ct=3978355 and it links to action steps. I’m going to follow up now because of you! Thanks again!


    • Thanks for the link. (I posted the same info on Twitter a couple of days ago.) The United Methodist Women also have a strong interest in this topic, and they have some excellent resources to check out too. Their reading list is excellent and has several books connected to this topic. I plan to do some blogging to highlight these resources. I suspect that not too many churches will observe Human Trafficking day since it is so soon after Christmas and Epiphany. More will probably observe MLK,Jr.’s birthday. Anyway, this is an emphasis that could easily fit into lectionary preaching many times of the year. Thanks for taking a look at my blog. I appreciate your support and your imput.


  5. Holly, what a great post. I would have loved a class that showed me the relevance of what I was studying.

    I think you have an opportunity for curriculum writing. I bet a lot of teachers would be very interested in hearing more about your lessons during that class.


  6. What a great example of how to make school relevant for kids. I have noticed that students now are particularly passionate about issues of social justice. Thanks for taking the time to show them why it really matters to have an education. I bet you inspired a lot of dinner time conversation on that day! Great job!


    • It is SO encouraging to see students’ passion about eliminating extreme poverty (which is certainly related to modern slavery–my next post will be on this connection). I don’t know whether dinner time conversations happened that day after class, but I hope they can start and continue with this blog. Thanks for your kind words.


  7. Pingback: Teach This! Teaching with lesson plans and ideas that rock #teaching 12/29/2011 | Tech Wacky

  8. A friend of mine and a deacon in the Detroit Conference is a singer/songwriter who put out the “Abolitionist Hymnal.” See http://www.carlthomasgladstone.com/lyrics2/category/abolitionist-hymnal .


    • Thanks Andrew! (good to see you here) The idea of a new “abolitionist hymnal” is really cool. I really wish I could hear the music on this site though. I’m forwarding this link to the music director of my church and tweeting the link so more folks may see it.


  9. Thanks for the post – and for your comment on expateducator.com! One of my favorite Essential Questions for American History unit (especially colonization and Civil War) is “What does it mean to be free?”

    Is a person really free if they have no way of learning to read or write?
    Is a person really free if they work for a wage that doesn’t allow them to feed their family?
    Is a person really free if they do not have the right to speak their beliefs? assemble? move cities without government approval? (my school borders China).
    And because the school is Christian, we can ask what freedom means from a Christian perspective.

    Great discussions ensue.


  10. Norman

    Never forget wage slavery!!!


  11. Pingback: Will Your Church Step Up?: The Challenge of Human Trafficking | hollyboardman

  12. Pingback: Teach This! Teaching with lesson plans and ideas that rock #teaching 12/29/2011 | Cool Cat Teacher Blog

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