More Than a Month: The Push to Change how Black History is TaughtHistorians in the News
tags: African American history, teaching history
Rasheeda Harris sees a difference in her daughter in February. That’s when 10-year-old Afiya seems more excited about school, more willing to talk about what she learned. It’s when she gushes about the people her teachers have introduced in history class: Rosa Parks. Ella Baker. Michelle Obama.
“She blossoms during that time,” Ms. Harris says. “We see the energy when she sees herself reflected.”
So Ms. Harris picks up the phone and calls her school administrators. This, she tells them, is what students need. And she asks them – as she has again and again, throughout her work as a parent activist with the New York-based Alliance for Quality Education – to teach Black history throughout the year, not just during Black History Month.
“When you deny children the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the curriculum and in the textbooks and in the worksheets, you deny them the ability to fully engage in the curriculum,” says Ms. Harris. “It’s important that our schools start to hone in on that fact.”
The Alliance for Quality Education, a grassroots group that works against what it sees as systemic racism in New York public schools, is just one of a growing number of voices demanding a new approach to teaching Black history in the nation’s K-12 educational institutions. The New York Legislature, for instance, is considering a mandatory full-year Black history curriculum; over the past months a petition supporting that law grew from 10,000 signatures to more than 110,000.
Rann Miller, an educator and writer who runs teacher professional development workshops on cultural competency, says this concept is at the foundation of why there needs to be a new, widespread focus on Black history. But for efforts to be effective, he says, there needs to be districtwide support. For too long, he adds, it has been up to individual teachers to counteract gaps in curriculum. But many teachers are unaware of their own blind spots, says Mr. Miller, a former high school history teacher who oversees an after school program in New Jersey. Nearly 80% of public school teachers are white, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, even though more than half of the country’s students are of other races and ethnicities.
“Educators need to educate themselves,” Mr. Miller says. “Quite frankly, you have a lot of white people who are unaware of the history of our nation. You may also have a lot of Black people who are unaware of the history of our nation.”
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