News & Politics

Shocker: Most College Students Think America Invented Slavery

Between 60 and 70 percent of American college students cannot name a country besides the United States which has had slavery, according to James “Duke” Pesta, an associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. He recalled asking students a few basic questions over an 11-year period, and noticed an increasing ignorance of history, coupled with a liberal slant.

“I gave surveys over an 11-year period, and one of the questions was, ‘Name a slaveholding country other than America, either before the founding or after.’ Maybe three or four out of ten could name one,” Pesta told PJ Media in an interview Thursday. The students seemingly thought America uniquely invented the institution, not just its racial overtones.

While currently at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, this professor has taught Western literature at seven different universities, and has given such quizzes to students at Purdue University, University of Tennessee Martin, Ursinus College, Oklahoma State University, and his current school. At all of these colleges, he discovered a similar ignorance about slavery, and an emphasis on the evils of the institution in the United States.

“We have so made American slavery the focus of our history education” that most students “have no idea that slavery is a worldwide phenomenon, that people of all races across the world have practiced it.” And that wasn’t the only major flaw in their knowledge — students could not identify Thomas Jefferson as a president, and could not explain Marxism, socialism, or capitalism in a sentence. Perhaps ironically, on one quiz, 29 out of 32 students knew Jefferson owned slaves, but only three identified him as president. Interestingly, six of them incorrectly believed Ben Franklin had held that office.

In discussing the quizzes afterward, the students “came to the recognition that their views of many of these events — of the Founding Fathers, of their country, of capitalism — were so one-sided. They couldn’t see another side, that’s what I found so disturbing.”

When he tells students that slavery is not unique to America, “they are quite bewildered. Some of them are skeptical.” But he recalled one comment over any other. “The one thing I hear a lot that I’m most proud of is, ‘How come nobody has ever told this to me before? I’ve been in school 20 years, but nobody has ever taught me this before.'”

While some students do not believe him, Pesta noted that there are “enough kids who are generally disappointed when they realize that the view of history they’ve been taught has been one way.”

Pesta did not complain that the students would criticize Western culture and history, but rather that they were ignorant of it altogether, and that their ignorance had a profound political slant.

Before the early 2000s, the professor told The College Fix, his students’ “blissful ignorance was accompanied by a basic humility about what they did not know.” But since the early 2000s, he increasingly witnessed “a sense of moral superiority in not knowing anything about our ‘racist and sexist’ history and our ‘biased’ institutions.”

Next Page: Why students are proud they don’t know anything, and why they don’t learn about Western history.

In his interview with PJ Media, Pesta explained that the multicultural liberal mindset “is all throughout the schools, from kindergarten all the way to graduate school.” He argued that “the monolithic control of universities and public schools by liberal progressives has shifted the curriculum,” and replaced good history books with textbooks like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. Multiculturalism goes beyond these textbooks and their ideology, however.

“Multiculturalism is very different from pluralism,” the professor told PJ Media. “It starts on the premise that all cultures are equal, which is demonstrably false. We can’t judge cultures on what they do.”

If all cultures are equal, however, “we have to account for why America and Western culture are so dominant,” and since “it couldn’t be because our culture’s better,” the only explanation is that “we raped and pillaged the rest of the world.”

Progressives argue that “kids already know Western culture, already know Christianity, the founding of America, the Constitution. It’s absolute B.S. — they don’t.”

Children never learn the Christian roots of Western culture, they never learn the ideals of the Constitution and the American founding, because teachers assume they already know such things. Instead, the teachers emphasize the ills of colonialism and slavery, to the exclusion of the good influences behind America and the West.

For example, “Thomas Jefferson is a bad guy now because he owned slaves,” Pesta explained. “But he wanted to write slavery out of the Constitution,” and those efforts are largely forgotten.

“It’s easier to see our founding documents as wicked documents, not the progressive, liberating documents they really are,” he said. “They really get the clear-cut idea that yes, American slavery is bad, and we should take responsibility.”

This is true, and America should struggle with its historic failings, but America is not unique. “In the broader current of world culture, you will find that our sins are in some ways pretty moderate compared to much of what goes on in the world.” But if students looked at non-Western cultures, they would find that their “history, in terms of the rights of women and minorities, is much worse than our history.”

“Without historical context, history is just politics,” Pesta concluded. “We’ve transformed the teaching of history into a political act, not a historical act. We want students to respect certain groups and condemn others. What we should be doing is teaching them how to understand history on its own terms.”