DHS teacher offers history lesson on Civil War
It is 1792 on the West Coast of Africa. Slaves are led into the hot, stuffy and dark hold of a ship and shackled to each other as they lay on the floor.
In an attempt to teach his Douglas High School junior history class about the slave trade, Adam Lazear recreated those conditions in his classroom Tuesday.
The students had been learning about the Civil War and Lazear said he wanted them to understand the slave trade that started it all.
“It’s a different way to teach. You need to attack things from a different perspective,” he said. “I try to get the feeling across without anybody getting hurt.”
– Re-enactment. The students were all bound with tape and locked together to desks as they lay on their backs next to each other. Then Lazear, who assumed the role of slave ship master, asked them to imagine the conditions and the pain of the beatings and the branding they endured.
They were encouraged to yell and moan and pull against their bindings as newly-captured slaves would have. The students loudly protested their imprisonment throughout their 3-1/2 week trip to America.
“They complain and yell and act like high schoolers, but they remember it because it is something unusual for them,” Lazear said.
Once the imaginary ship reaches the south, the student slaves are brought above and put on the auction block.
Lazear assumed the role of the slave owners assessing the slaves’ condition for field work or house work.
“Each and every one of you will be auctioned off. You will be checked for lice and to see if your teeth are good and you are in good health,” he said.
After the simulation was over and the students were back in their seats, Lazear asked them their impressions of the experience.
Many said the descriptions of the stench and the conditions affected them the most, while others were upset by being bound.
“It hurt” and “I wanted to escape” were their comments.
“There were slaves who escaped while they were still in West Africa, but once that boat left port, many were from inland and had never seen the ocean before. They didn’t know what was going on,” he told the class.
– Teaching process. Lazear said he has done this simulation for about eight years now. As with other presentations he does – where students are assembly line workers for Henry Ford or are sitting on the bus with civil rights figure Rosa Parks – the students are only told they will be doing something different before class.
Although this year’s class was not very racially diverse, Lazear said the issue of race is sensitive.
“It’s interesting to do this with a class that is really racially diverse. That is only something you can do after establishing a rapport with the students. I think it goes deeper (for the students) because there are some real sensitive issues there,” he said.
However, Lazear said, he is not attempting to teach sensitivity, but history.
“The simulation is about teaching about the event. I want to get the point across what the slave trade was about and how it fits in with slavery and the Civil War,” he said.