Embracing Both Struggle and Joy through History in Year 8

Embracing Both Struggle and Joy through History in Year 8

Is there joy amidst sorrow?

At the start of the Year 8 History unit on the trans-atlantic slave trade, students were introduced to an essential principle advocated by Jania Hoover, an American teacher of African-American history: “Don’t teach black history without black joy.” Hoover stresses that joy is a vital part of the human experience and that overlooking it can perpetuate racial disparities in society. Keeping this in mind, Year 8 students were challenged to identify instances of joy that enslaved people might have found amidst their suffering. Despite the difficulty, students uncovered numerous acts of resistance against capture, the journey to the Americas, and plantation life.

In a recent lesson, students explored how attempts to escape plantations could provide enslaved individuals with empowerment, agency, and moral satisfaction. They studied notable revolts in Jamaica, Barbados, Saint Domingue (now Haiti), and the Stono Rebellion near Charleston, South Carolina. By examining the causes and consequences of these high-risk actions, students contextualized them within the brutal reality of plantation life. To gain a nuanced perspective, they also considered escape attempts from the viewpoint of plantation owners and why they worked hard to prevent them. They learned that many escape plans were thwarted by other enslaved people who, fearing repercussions, urged their loved ones to abandon the idea.

In an interactive exercise, students were grouped into families, each given a character such as a mother, her sister, or one of three boys they raised. As they devised an escape plan, they engaged in a ‘family discussion’ about the wisdom of their decision, ultimately explaining to the class whether they would proceed with their plan. This exploration of resistance highlighted the multi-dimensional experience of enslaved people. As Jania Hoover states, “When we teach oppression and struggle without also teaching the joy of resistance, we miss the mark.” By exploring resistance throughout this unit, Bangkok Patana History students have indeed hit the target.

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