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'12 Years A Slave' To Be Taught In Public High Schools Next School Year

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by Jai Tiggett
February 24, 2014 6:44 PM
8 Comments
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'12 Years A Slave'

Public high school students will soon have a new piece of media, along with films like classroom mainstay Roots, to teach about the horrors and legacy of slavery. 

Since 12 Years A Slave was released last year, director Steve McQueen has spoken about his desire to see Solomon Northup's autobiography of the same name integrated into school curricula. It looks like he'll finally get his wish as the National School Boards Association (NSBA) has partnered with New Regency, Penguin Books, and Fox Searchlight to distribute copies of the 1853 memoir, along with the acclaimed film and accompanying study guide to America’s public high schools.

The initiative, organized by talk show host and NSBA spokesperson Montel Williams, is modeled after a program that Williams developed to integrate the film Glory into public schools years ago. 

"12 Years a Slave is one of the most impactful films in recent memory, and I am honored to have been able to bring together Fox Searchlight and National School Boards Association to maximize its educational potential. When Hollywood is at its best, the power of the movies can be harnessed into a powerful educational tool. This film uniquely highlights a shameful period in American history, and in doing so will evoke in students a desire to not repeat the evils of the past while inspiring them to dream big of a better and brighter future, and I’m proud to be a part of that," said Williams in an announcement released this weekend. 

This comes as good news, as media becomes increasingly important to reaching students accustomed to getting their information from the moving image and the web. It would be nice to see other issue-centered films, for example Fruitvale Station, take up this model as well, even in excerpt form. 

12 Years A Slave educational materials are set to be distributed in the upcoming school year, in September 2014. 

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8 Comments

  • Shavonne | February 25, 2014 1:13 AMReply

    This is an extremely important film, but not one to necessarily show in a high school setting.

  • CareyCarey | February 24, 2014 11:50 PMReply

    BULLSH*T! Are we serious? What exactly are the student going to learn? Oh wait "This film uniquely highlights a shameful period in American history, and in doing so will evoke in students a desire to not repeat the evils of the past while inspiring them to dream big of a better and brighter future".

    So tell me, if I was a black high school student, exactly what part of the past (taken from this film) would I not desire to repeat... and can actually change!? Yeah, that was merely "sound good" rhetoric that will produce no viable or favorable results for black high school students. I believe the film Malcolm X would be a better choice - BY FAR. Or even, The Spook Who Sat By The Door. That is, if the goal is teaching black youth the ways of white folks, yesterday and today, those films are exactly what the doctor ordered. Not the film "12 years" which only served to show there are no dire consequences for those who wreak havoc upon the black man. Oppress him, rape him, hang him, fk him, enslave him and whip him until he bleeds, and nothing happens to the evil doers in this movie. But lets show it to high school students so they can learn - WHAT!? Or, that right, they can learn to dream big. Yeaaah riiiiight.

    Listen, promoting this movie in high school leaves me with the same feelings I have to deal with when I hear the book "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is mandatory reading in many schools and the film "To Kill a Mockingbird" is deemed a "classic" and a "must see" film by all Americans. Please, spare me the insult. What did we learn from reading and watching those parts of American history?

    Damn-damn-damn, we're being played and pimped like bald-head suckers. Unfortunately, many of us are carrying the banner with smiles on our face.

  • CareyCarey | February 26, 2014 12:39 AM

    EXACTLY Blutopaz! Everything you said I wholeheartedly agree. This is not an issue anyone should view with a passing glance.

  • BluTopaz | February 25, 2014 8:25 PM

    ETA--Also I praise McQueen's initiative here. I think it's important that this curriculum is taught as part of AMERICAN history, not just Black history taught in February. This course could be the foundation for what has helped this country become a superpower, in terms of the favorable conditions of free labor for four centuries.

    And in this direction re: economics, eventually schools would have to teach exactly why Abe Lincoln wasn't the great humanitarian history has made him out to be. Whole lot of shit would come undone.

  • BluTopaz | February 25, 2014 8:17 PM

    If I were a high school teacher tasked with showing this very difficult film to my students, afterwards I would ask them how they see the results of slavery today. For example, do they see any correlation between how enslaved Blacks were treated, and how certain people view Black people today. Then of course all the angry White parents would want me fired for bringing up the mythical race card because Lord knows Tiffany and Justin are sooooo oppressed, and the Black kids with parents who haven't taught them history would be annoyed as well for different reasons. So I guess it's a good thing I'm not a teacher.

    But I get your point, too. Unless schools are ready to fully address the hard questions of CURRENT racism in America, let's not just show a slave movie to pat ourselves on the back about how far we have come. Cuz I would rather talk about all the White people who would love nothing more than going back to slavery.

  • CareyCarey | February 25, 2014 7:09 PM

    Point well taken Blutopaz, but other than the obvious fact that humans were treated as if they were dogs (less than human) what will the students learn from watching this film?

    Listen, I am in the crowd who believes too much power is given to movies. Their main purpose is they're a source of entertainment. However, when that entertainment is introduced into the school system as a teaching tool, we're now talking about a horse of a different color, which needs to be examined with a very keen eye.

    So again, what did we learn from being forced to read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? And now this, what in the world is the real goal of showing "12 years" in public schools? Well, they say if you want to find the root of a problem, follow the money. Well, is their financial gain for those who are ushering this into school system? Sure there is!

    Other than how to make money off the backs of the uninformed and the "enslaved", I am still waiting for ANYONE to tell me what the students are really going to learn? I just don't get it?!

    So please, someone, anyone, pull my coat, school me.

  • BluTopaz | February 25, 2014 12:32 PM

    "who wreak havoc upon the black man. Oppress him, rape him, hang him, fk him, enslave him and whip him until he bleeds, and nothing happens to the evil doers in this movie. But lets show it to high school students so they can learn - WHAT!? "

    Who knows, maybe they'll learn it was not only Black males who were oppressed, raped and beaten. Apparently there are adults who aren't aware of this.

  • Mark & Darla | February 24, 2014 10:00 PMReply

    State of Texas ain't having it.

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