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Answer Key to Homework Assignment on Slavery World-Wide, Then and Now

The purpose of this assignment is to highlight important points in the student handout Slavery: A World-Wide View, Then and Now by requiring students to paraphrase the information in the handout. The questions reach only Bloom's Taxonomy levels for "Knowledge" and "Comprehension". They reach Level One in Art Costa's three levels of intellectual functioning.

Click Here for a version of this homework assignment, without suggested responses, suitable to be handed out to the class.

Before distributing this homework, tell students that the assignment is open book and that in framing their responses, they should refer to the handout. However, students should answer in their own words and not simply quote the book. Make sure the class understands the definition of irony or modify Question #8.

1.  Two reservoirs of slavery have been identified and one other probable reservoir has been discussed by historians. Describe the geographic location of these pools of people, the periods of time during which they existed, and the types of people who were enslaved. Suggested Response: The oldest identified slave reservoir consisted of the Slavs of Eastern Europe and Iranians in the provinces of Persia close to Europe. From antiquity to the 19th century, slavers would raid these populations and carry off captives. The black people of sub-Saharan Africa constituted another slave reservoir which provided slaves for the Middle East and later for the Americas. This slave reservoir lasted from the beginning of the Christian Era to the mid-20th century. A third possible population reservoir for slavers consisted of the peoples of Europe (Germanic tribes, Celtic tribes and others) who lived north of the Roman Empire. These people were victims of repeated raids by the Vikings until the early 11th century.

2.  What is the origin of the word "slave"? Suggested Response: It comes from the word "Slav" and originated in Moorish Spain in the Middle Ages because, for centuries, so many of their slaves had been of Slavic origin. From there the word spread to Europe.

3.  Which of the ancient civilizations that have formed the basis for modern Western culture practiced slavery at one time or another? Name at least two. Suggested Response: Virtually all civilizations which were precursors for modern Western civilization practiced slavery. Examples include: Greece, Rome, Israel, and Babylon. But most cultures throughout the world have practiced slavery.

4.  How extensive was slavery in Africa before the Europeans started the Transatlantic slave trade? Who were the slavers and who were the enslaved? Suggested Response: Slavery was practiced virtually everywhere in Africa. The enslaved were black Africans and the masters were black Africans. Arab slave traders also carried blacks out of Africa to slavery in the Middle East and other locations.

5.  What is "pawnship" and in what geographic area is it practiced? Suggested Response: Pawnship is the bondage of girls to work off a debt that one family owes to another. It is practiced in Africa.

6.  What is "compensation marriage" and on which continent is it practiced? Suggested Response: Compensation marriage forces girls into arranged marriages as compensation for a murder perpetrated by a member of her family, to offset debts, or to settle other inter-clan or family disputes. Compensation marriage is prevalent in Northwest Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of the Middle East.

7.  The local African slave trade in the 18th and early 19th centuries was complementary to the Transatlantic slave trade in one respect. Describe this. Suggested Response: African slave owners favored women and children. Women and children were less likely to escape and the women could produce children for the slave owner. Adult male captives were more troublesome and dangerous. In the local African slave trade, males were often killed upon capture. The Transatlantic slave trade gave slavers a market for their excess male captives.

8.  The handout lists five ironic situations in the history of slavery. (In history, an ironic situation is one in which the facts are opposite from, or at least very different from, what we expect.) Briefly describe the ironic fact referred to in the handout that has to do with the creation of the United States and one other ironic fact shown by the history of slavery. For each situation, explain why it is ironic. Suggested Response: The five ironic facts described in the handout and the reasons they are ironic are:
    (1) The Transatlantic slave trade saved the lives of some male African captives. Local African slavery favored women and children, with male captives usually being killed. The Transatlantic slave trade gave slavers a market for their male slaves thereby saving the lives of many men who otherwise would have been killed. It is unexpected and ironic that the Transatlantic slave trade, which resulted in bondage and death for millions, actually saved some lives.

    (2) The "One-Drop" Rule. Although prejudiced whites considered themselves genetically superior to blacks, they believed that one drop of black blood in a person's ancestors made the person black. One would have thought that the "superior" "white" genes would be stronger than the "inferior" "black" genes. However, ironically, the "one-drop" rule contradicts this.

    (3) Colonialism led to freedom for some colonized people. Colonialism is an oppressive system which resulted in the subjugation of millions for the benefit of the colonizers. However, in the 19th century, outright slavery was banned by most colonial powers. Being free, even under a repressive colonial regime, was better for slaves than being held in bondage. The irony is that colonialism, usually thought of as oppressive, actually resulted in freedom for slaves.

    (4) In 1776 an important reason among Southern patriots to support the American Revolution was to preserve slavery. An important factor in motivating many Southern colonists to join the American Revolution was their belief that England would eventually abolish slavery in the colonies. One of the major compromises of 1776, which permitted the colonists to band together to rebel against the British Empire, was the agreement by the Northern colonists to allow slavery to continue in the South. This bargain was later enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, which protected slavery. It was only in 1865, after the bloodiest war in U.S. history, that slavery was abolished in the United States. The unexpected result, the irony, is that the U.S., in many other ways a beacon of freedom for billions of people throughout the world, was built on a compromise that included allowing men, women and children to be enslaved for life.

    (5) Liberia, a country established as a place to send liberated American slaves was one of the last countries in the world to outlaw slavery. You would expect that Liberia would be one of the first countries to liberate its slaves. In fact, ironically, it was one of the last.
9.  What is the range of estimates about how many slaves exist in the modern world? Suggested Response: 12 to 27 million.

10.  Why are arranged marriages considered by many to be a form of slavery for women? Suggested Response: Women don't get to choose their husbands and are required to submit sexually, bear children, and perform domestic work.

11.  Name four forms of modern day slavery other than compensation marriage and arranged marriage. Suggested Response: The forms of modern slavery include: illegal bonded labor, debt slavery, child labor, child prostitution, child pornography, use of children in armed conflicts, and the forced donation of organs of the body.

12.  What is human trafficking? Suggested Response: Taking people from one country to another for the purpose of having them work in slave-like conditions.

13.  How many people did the U.S. State Department estimate were the victims of human trafficking in 2007? Suggested Response: 800,000.

14.   Describe some of the work that people trafficked into the United States perform. Suggested Response: Examples are: making garments in sweatshops, prostitution, domestic servitude, and construction.

15.  Identify three trends which foster slave labor in the modern world. Suggested Response: 1) increased population, primarily in the developing world; 2) rapid social and economic change that has caused many people to move to cities and their outskirts, where people have no "safety net" and no job security; and 3) government corruption which allows slavery to go unpunished, even though it is illegal everywhere.

Comprehension Test on Slavery in the American South

The purpose of this test it to assess student understanding and recall of important points about slavery in the Southern United States. The questions reach only Bloom's Taxonomy levels for "Knowledge" and "Comprehension". They reach Level One in Art Costa's format for framing questions.

Click Here for a version of this homework assignment, without suggested responses, suitable to be handed out to the class.

This comprehension test is based on facts described in the film. Before showing the movie, tell students to listen carefully to what is said in the film and to take notes of important facts, especially information supplied by the film's narrator.

1.  There were 31,441,000 people in the U.S. at the time of the Civil War. Approximately how many were slaves? What was the percentage of Americans who were slaves? Suggested Response: About 4,000,000 or about 13% of the total U.S. population was enslaved.

2.  Name three of the four major cash crops grown on plantations in the American South before the Civil War. Suggested Response: The four were: cotton, tobacco, sugar, and rice.

3.  Why weren't slaves usually permitted to learn how to read? Suggested Response: Slaves were not permitted to learn to read because whites feared that literate slaves would become dissatisfied with their lot in life, would think that they were as good as the whites, and that they would therefore be more likely to revolt or run away. [If students have read the short excerpt from Mr. Douglass' narrative detailing his decision to learn to read at whatever cost, add the following as part of this question: "Was this fear realistic?". The obvious answer, based on Mr. Douglass' narrative, was that the whites' fear was justified.]

4.  List two potential consequences if a slave was found with a book. Suggested Response: Any type of punishment was possible. Being whipped or sold to a different owner away from family and friends are two punishments that were mentioned in the slave narratives.

5.  There were three classes of slaves that are mentioned in the movie. What were they? Suggested Response: The classes of slaves were: (1) highest: house servants; butlers, maids and cooks; (2) middle: skilled artisans, including blacksmiths, milliners, and carpenters; and (3) lowest: common field hands.

6.  What percent of slaves lived on plantations with 50 slaves or more? Suggested Response: 25% of slaves lived on large plantations.

7.   What was the effect of the fact that white men required slave women to submit to their sexual advances? Suggested Response: Like all sexual assaults, it was an extreme violation and humiliation of the victim. Sexual abuse of female slaves by white men also humiliated the husbands, fathers, brothers, and other male relatives of the female slaves because there was nothing the men could do to stop it. Sexual abuse of female slaves by owners and overseers also undermined the slave family. White exploitation of female slaves was an expression of the absolute power of the white man over slaves, no matter what their sex.

8.   What does it mean to checker a person? Suggested Response: Checkering a person is to lash the person first one way and then the other so that there is a checkered pattern left on the skin.

9.   Salt and pepper had a special use on slave plantations that had nothing to do with food. What was it? Suggested Response: Slave owners or overseers would rub salt and pepper into a slave's wounds from whippings to make the wounds more painful.

10.  What was the importance of funerals to the slaves? Suggested Response: Funerals reinforced the slaves' sense of community and kept alive their African past.

11.  In one of the narratives, a former slave describes how the slaves on her plantation were fed. What did she say? Suggested Response: They were fed in troughs like pigs and cattle. (This was Octavia George, Episode # 26.)

12.   Why did some slave owners encourage their slaves to convert to Christianity? Suggested Response: They thought it would make them more docile. White preachers told slaves that it was God's will that they were slaves and that if they submitted in this life, they would get their reward in heaven.

13.  Some masters didn't want their slaves to have their own religious meetings. One narrative talks about a signal among the slaves that a secret church meeting would be held that night. What was it? Suggested Response: The slaves would sing a song that included the words, "Steal away to Jesus."

14.  What was a "paddyroller"? Suggested Response: A white man who patrolled the roads looking for runaway slaves or slaves without passes.

15.  What percentage of slave families were separated as a result of family members being sold? Suggested Response: About 33% of slave families were separated by the sale of one member or another.

16.  What percentage of slave children were sold away from their families or had their families sold away from them? Suggested Response: Approximately 20% of slave children were separated from their families by the sale of one or the other.

17.  Name two of the punishments for trying to run away mentioned in the movie. Suggested Response: The punishments for slaves who tried to run away but were caught included: execution, mutilation, whipping, and being sold.

18.   What organization collected slave narratives during the Great Depression? Suggested Response: The Federal Writers' Project began collecting slave narratives during the Great Depression.

19.  How many days a week did slaves have to work on the usual plantation? Suggested Response: Slaves usually had to work six days a week. On some plantations they had to work seven days a week.

20.  What did slaves customarily steal and why? Suggested Response: They often stole food because the slave owners often didn't feed them enough.


Discussion Questions

Questions Concerning Slave Narratives as Literary Form
Based on the Helpful Background Section.

1.  Why was writing a slave narrative a self-affirming act by the author? Suggested Response: Slaves in the Southern United States were born into a world in which they were devalued as human beings. In slave narratives, former slaves stood up for themselves, showing the world that they were literate, thinking, feeling human beings whose stories were worth telling.

2.  In the U.S. in the first half of the 19th century, slave narratives provided different benefits to white society in the free states than to black society (slave and free). What were those social benefits? Suggested Response: For whites, reading a slave narrative provided a clear picture of what life was like for the slaves and of the brutalizing effects of slavery on every aspect of Southern society, white and black. It also personalized the suffering of the author and made white readers empathize with a black person and his or her struggles. Finally, it made white readers understand that black people could acquire education and learn to write very well. Reading a slave narrative showed that black people had thoughts, fears and hopes just like other men and women. For blacks, reading a slave narrative was a self-affirming and liberating experience.

3.  How did the genre of the slave narrative change after Emancipation? Suggested Response: Most of the post-civil war narratives focused on how the former slaves adapted to life in post-slavery society and how the former slaves prospered. Many were stories of spiritual growth written by ministers.

4.  Many incidents in a book that had a profound influence on Northern perceptions of slavery were taken from slave narratives. What was the book and who was it's author? Suggested Response: The book was Uncle Tom's Cabin and the author was Harriet Beecher Stowe.

5.  Until the 1950s, what was the attitude of most historians about the usefulness of slave narratives as a source of historical information? Suggested Response: Claiming that slave narratives were unreliable and biased, historians initially refused to use them as sources of information about slavery. The historians noted that slave narratives were often created in cooperation with white abolitionist editors who wanted to use the narratives to further their cause. On a few occasions, when the former slaves were illiterate, abolitionists wrote the narratives based on the former slaves' dictation. Moreover, slave narratives challenged the myth, prevalent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, that Southern plantations were benevolent institutions which helped civilize barbaric Africans. This view held that plantations were places where the races cooperated according to their innate abilities and that slaves lived contented lives.

6.  What event changed historian's attitude toward the usefulness of slave narratives? Suggested Response: The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

7.  What was the Federal Writer's Project? Suggested Response: During the Great Depression, the Federal Writers' Project (FWP) was created to give jobs to writers and researchers.

8.   Why did the Federal Writer's Project start to interview slaves in 1936? Suggested Response: Seventy years had passed since slavery had been outlawed by the 13th Amendment. Former slaves were nearing the end of their lives and, unless recorded, their memories would have been lost. In that year, the FWP began a major effort to gather oral histories from former slaves

Social Studies Discussion Questions

1.  In a republic, the majority, acting through its elected representatives, make the laws and decide what the government will do. There are, however, certain areas in which the rights of the individual are so important that the majority is not permitted to make laws that restrict those rights. Thus, in the United States, certain provisions of the Constitution, especially the first ten Amendments, set out areas in which the majority cannot act. For example, the majority cannot make laws abridging freedom of speech or setting up a state religion. The government cannot take away the property of an individual or punish an individual without due process of law. The majority cannot permit unreasonable searches and seizures, etc.

In the United States, the decision to go to war is a decision made by the President and Congress, i.e., the majority acting through their elected representatives. In every war that the U.S. has entered, there have been some Americans who disagreed with the decision to go to war. However, in wars such as the Civil War, the First World War, the Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, individuals who disagreed with the decision to go to war were drafted into the military and served their country. The majority had made its decision and as members of society, those who disagreed with that decision had the obligation to cooperate. If they refused, they would go to jail. In each of these wars some men who refused to serve were imprisoned. Many of these men were people of exceptional moral strength who did not hide or run away and who accepted their imprisonment as the price of their convictions. (Opponents of wars who did serve in the military could write to their Congressman or vote or campaign against the decision to go to war, and while the war was going on they could do the same in support of a decision to stop the war. Conscientious objectors drafted into the military could serve in non-combatant roles.)

Before the Civil War some slaves escaped to the North and lived out their lives in freedom. Whites were divided about this. Those who abhorred slavery helped the runaways find a new life and tried to protect them from their former masters. However, other whites were interested in collecting rewards for the return of slaves offered by Southern slave owners.

In the Compromise of 1850, Congress revised the Fugitive Slave Law, giving slave owners the right to hunt down runaway slaves in any state. The courts and the police were required to assist them. Officials would receive a reward if they returned a fugitive slave to his owner. If they failed to return the slave they would be fined. Private citizens were also required to assist in the recapture of runaways and if they did not, could be fined, sentenced to jail, and required to pay restitution to the slave owner. In this way, the majority had stated through the Fugitive Slave Law, that stolen or missing property had to be returned.

Many in the free states hated the Fugitive Slave Law and refused to comply with it. However, there were instances in which people felt that their social contract obliged them to obey the law, and as much as they disliked doing it, they returned fugitive slaves to their Southern owners. Below is a poster put up by abolitionists in Boston a center of abolitionist sentiment, after passage of the new law.

What you would do in the following hypothetical situation?

It is the early 1850s and you live in a village in New England making a living by fixing equipment in a local textile factory. Your employer's business takes cotton grown on slave plantations and makes it into cloth. Slavery is not legal in your state, however, the Fugitive Slave provides that any citizen, North or South, must notify the authorities if they see someone they think may be a fugitive slave. The authorities will put the person in jail until his or her master can send someone to take possession and return him to the South. While people who refuse to obey the Fugitive Slave Law can be fined or required to pay restitution to the slave owner, that seldom happens.

One night, a runaway slave comes to your door asking for directions to Canada. He is a strong young man, a prime field hand. He tells you that his master has a small farm and has no other slaves. For the time this slave was with his master, he was well treated. The master has a large family to support and had just purchased the slave for $500. (Assume that $500 in those days was worth about $50,000 in today's money.) It is clear that without this slave the master will not be able to bring in the next crop and will suffer extreme financial hardship, in addition to losing the $500 that he had paid for the slave.

Should you turn the slave in or should you hide him and help him get to Canada?

Suggested Response: [What follows are some of the basic arguments that should be covered in any discussion of this question.]

Arguments for Turning the Slave in to the Authorities:
    (1) According to the U.S. Constitution, as it existed in 1850, slaves were property. This meant that a run away slave was the equivalent of stolen property. In 1776, the Founding Fathers had forged a compromise to convince the Southern colonies to take the risky step of joining the Revolution. The Southern states foresaw that the British would soon outlaw slavery. They wanted to keep their slaves and so they offered to join the American Revolution on the condition that the Southern colonies would be allowed to maintain their "peculiar institution". This bargain is clearly implied by the Constitution and was sealed by the lives and blood of thousands of Southern patriots who fought for independence. If the citizens in the Northern states didn't return fugitive slaves, they would be dishonoring this bargain.

    (2) The Fugitive Slave Law was passed by a majority in Congress and signed by the President. Under the social contract between citizens and society, each member of society is bound to live by its laws. If a citizen doesn't like a law, the citizen should become politically active and work to change it. But until the change occurs, the majority of people in society, as represented by their elected officials, have the right to decide what to do with fugitive slaves.

    (3) It will be an extreme financial hardship on this slave's master and his family if the slave is not returned.

    (4) Since you earn a living from the economic system in which cotton is grown in the South and made into cloth in Northern mills, you indirectly benefit from slavery. If slavery ended tomorrow, your job might be in jeopardy. It's not only a question of whether you can judge the slave owner when you also profit from a system that is based on slavery. It's a matter of your own job, your self-interest, that the Fugitive Slave Law be enforced and slavery preserved in the South. Does your own self-interest apply to this situation?

    (5) As the Southerners never tired of pointing out, slavery is a time-honored custom that is sanctioned by the Bible. For example, the ancient Israelites had slaves. One of the biblical laws in ancient Israel was that slaves were to be freed every seven years.
Arguments for Helping the Slave to Escape to Canada:
    (1) People aren't property and slavery is a great crime, whether sanctioned by the U.S. Constitution or not. Anyone who participates in slavery, directly or indirectly, does something wrong. The Fugitive Slave Law is immoral because it requires that people be sent to bondage. The bargain struck between the Southern colonies and the Northern colonies to tolerate slavery was immoral and there is no obligation to obey an immoral law.

    (2) You could not bear to turn this slave over to his master for a life of slavery and the punishment he would receive for running away.

    2.   One of the arguments used by Southerners to defend slavery was based on the unfairness of depriving them of their slaves and their property. They contended that the Southern colonies had joined the American Revolution on the explicit promise that they would be permitted to retain slavery. The slave owners pointed to several provisions of the Constitution that implicitly permit slavery. Their grandfathers and great-grandfathers had fought in the Revolutionary War, and some had died, based on this bargain. The Southerners also pointed to the fact that they had hundreds of millions of dollars invested in slaves. In addition, the defenders of slavery pointed to the fact that the North made money on the textile industry which was almost exclusively based on cotton and the slave labor needed to grow it. Evaluate these arguments. Suggested Response: The South's fairness arguments had some validity. However, granting rights to people always involves some element of taking rights away from others. For example, the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure protects all of us against governmental intrusion into our privacy. However, it means that some criminals will go unpunished and that some victims will have to live with the fact that a person who robbed them or killed a relative will not be punished. This isn't fair to the victim, but our society has decided that, overall, the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. In the case of slavery, the violation of the rights of the slaves was so terrible that most people today would agree that even though there was some unfairness to the Southern slave owners, it was right to free the slaves.

    3.   The cost to the federal government of the Civil War, together with pensions and care for wounded soldiers, is estimated to have been well over $9.5 billion. (See Historical Times Encyclopedia of the Civil War, edited by Patricia L. Faust.) The South paid additional billions for the war effort and suffered billions of dollars in damage to property. This is well over the value of the 4,000,000 slaves at market prices. More importantly, approximately 600,000 soldiers on both sides died of their wounds or of illness in camp. More than this number were injured. Of course, these losses were not anticipated before the war. However, if you were in Congress in the 1850s, would you have supported a plan to require the slave owners to free their slaves and to pay them for the value of those slaves? Suggested Response: There is a lot to commend this idea. It would have avoided all of the expense, injury and loss of life associated with the Civil War. Moreover, this solution would have, to a great extent, honored the bargain between the Southern colonies and the Northern colonies to preserve slavery in the South. Remember that this bargain was consecrated with the blood of men and women from the South who died in the American Revolution. The argument against this proposal is that you would have been enriching criminal slaveholders, paying someone for having enslaved another. However, that is what was happening in the economic system in place before the Civil War. Slave owners, Northern Industrialists and, to an extent, Northern mill workers, profited from the cotton clothing industry.

    4.  One of the actresses was distressed that former slave Sarah Ashley (Episode #15) was proud that she always made her quota when she was picking cotton. Should a slave be proud that she was good at her job and did it well? Suggested Response: There is no one correct answer to this question. It will basically depend on the outlook of the person answering. One opinion is that the actress was wrong and goes like this. One of the most pernicious aspects of slavery was that it denigrated the value of work. Slaves had little incentive to work well or hard since the fruit of their labor would be taken by the master. Since work was performed by slaves, the whites came to believe that work was beneath them. For this slave, her ability to do the work gave her a sense of self-respect. The other opinion is that any cooperation with an evil institution is evil and all slaves should have taken pride in doing as little as possible.

    5.  Which of these three narrators do you most admire? Pick one and describe your reasons. Suggested Response: There is no one correct response. Our special admiration goes out to: (1) Cato Carter (Episode #46) because of his refusal to hurt another person even if it meant that he had to put his own life in danger; (2) Arnold Gragston (Episode #38) who, at great risk, rowed slaves across the Ohio river to freedom; and (3) Fannie Berry (Episode #13) who was able to fight off the advances of white men.

    Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:


    See Social Studies Discussion Questions above.


    1.  Which of the former slaves exhibited the most courage in the events described in the narratives read in this film? Suggested Response: There is no one correct response. Our special admiration goes out to: (1) Cato Carter (Episode #46) who risked his life in running away rather than killing another person; (2) Arnold Gragston (Episode #38) who, at great risk, rowed slaves across the Ohio river to freedom; and (3) Fannie Berry (Episode #13) who stood up to sexual the advances of white men.

    Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)

    Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.


    (Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)

    1.   How does the Pillar of Respect apply to slavery? Suggested Response: Slavery, in that it exploits others and denies them their rights, is the essence of disrespect.


    (Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)

    2.   See Social Studies Discussion question #2. What does this tell us about fairness? Suggested Response: Sometimes, ethical principles conflict and what is right is not entirely fair. There are limits to fairness and to all ethical principles when they conflict with other ethical principles. See Making Effective and Pincipled Decisions.

    Last updated July 5, 2008.

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