Here’s Why We Must Teach Beyond the Textbooks


Many educators sincerely wish to enlighten and engage students by exploring black history in greater depth than standard curriculum currently permits. The experiences, stories, and significant societal impact of African-Americans has been very rarely explored in k-12 classroom settings and teachers must certainly be confused or uncertain about how to begin introducing new themes with relevance to learners.

Also important to note is that many educators themselves know very little about the history of the black experience in America. Let me begin with this: Black or African-American history is more than slavery and civil rights. Because most of the noteworthy and significance of people of color have eluded their own educational experiences, the time is now that learning becomes reciprocal, literally, in America’s classrooms. While students learn, teachers learn, as well-an ideal circumstance for engagement.

The United States’ student populations are diversely represented, and becoming overwhelmingly black and brown.  To educators, this means that in order to teach and engage students with maximum interest, it is necessary to teach beyond the textbook with respect, affirmation and courage.

“Uncommon valor was a common virtue!”

This is a quote that doesn’t apply today because it appears that everyone is afraid of everything, everyone, afraid of difference, and afraid of their own shadows in a profession where educators are supposed to teach unafraid, unconventionally, and fact-check in such manners that may indeed challenge ‘conventional wisdom’ and the ‘status quo’. It is expected that within learning environments, critical thinking and deep understanding is rooted in self-awareness, freedom of exploration, expression and the brave examination of the world around us thus allowing a more inclusive worldview.

How does this relate to teaching beyond the textbook? It acknowledges that traditional texts present a euro-centric self-serving view of facts that support concepts, values and events in history that defy common sense. It is impossible to demonstrate respect for diversity when texts dismiss the roles that diverse people play in shaping society. The millions of children of color and those children whose cultural heritages and experiences aren’t represented in texts as equally important as others. Yet, they aren’t being given the inspiration or the foundational affirmations needed to fuel their life pursuits.

We find this as truthful in the way we examine the role and experiences of blacks in American history and society. We don’t, and that is the problem with public education. Teachers aren’t trained to teach about or to African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and other groups whose children sit before us in school. How many teachers can tell us that upon entry into service, they are prepared to teach to and about black children? Zero to none. As a matter of fact, teachers of color aren’t trained or prepared to teach before students who look like them, either.

The curriculum doesn’t approach the relevance to these students, and the texts don’t align with a standardized instructional presentation of their significance. Blacks in America are examined as a footnote in history, instead of a central component in U.S. or world history.

Africans have been in this country since 1620, it is preposterous to make children believe that there is no reason to learn about the black experience or believe that it has meaning in society. The message they receive is that they have no place in society, they won’t have a rich legacy, no place in this country, and disrespect, discrimination is a part of their fate. Essentially, they really have no reason to attend school and be motivated to succeed or feel that they belong in this environment.

Shame on us! And we call ourselves liberal, forward-thinkers, caring adults, unbiased, and ‘effective’, competent educators. So not true! If it were true, every one of us would see the obvious-we are disrespecting children of color everyday that we stand before them and demand their engagement, tell them to believe they have potential, and expect them to graduate out of 12th grade, with sights set on college and career.

We wonder why so many youth walk around angry with the world, and angry with us, seem to have no respect for life, no belief that there is a productive place for them in society, where they may or must give respect and expect to receive respect. We can’t expect children to go out on blind faith alone when there is never any evidence presented before them that supports that faith. MLK, Rosa Parks and maybe Malcolm X aren’t fully exclusive examples of the power of faith.

They represent the influence of anger as a catalyst for change. So, they display anger. We never demonstrated the source of their anger and the circumstances in which they were presented as the catalyst for change. Today’s black youth are angry and aren’t really certain as to why they feel this way. Moreover, there are no examples of anger resolution that may be modeled and applied to bring about those changes that they seek.

Take a random black kid in any classroom, and ask them what they wish to be when they ‘grow up’, and think about the answers that you get. There is a clear limited range of dreams expressed. Yet, their ancestral histories demonstrate limitless possibilities. They never learn about those who came before them and the wide range of dreams fulfilled, professions represented and successful life pursuits. A dream deferred is counterproductive and yet, the role we play in the educational experiences of these children demonstrates our deep-seated compliance with an old racist mindset. Inferiority, negative stereotypes, false narratives are perpetuated in school, originate in school, and embedded in the way we teach children in school.

As a parent, we want the best for our children and we expect that a child, who is mandated to attend public school, a part of that process would involve the acquisition of their historical references from which they may emerge stronger and more resilient than those before them. Instead, their inner-strength and resilience is being misdirected and redirected from learning in school into an anger and resistance that can only be unleashed and expressed inward-upon each other. With nowhere to go, what would you do? Now do you understand why events unfold as they do? No guidance-no hope? This is where educators come in with desperate abandon in efforts to affirm, encourage and motivate students to engage and succeed academically and identify their places in the world. They are the evidence of a dire need to teach TO students rather than focusing on test scores.

Great teachers not only do what’s best-they do what needs to be done to teach, not preach to students. It seems to be that the fear of standardization has taken the creativity out of teaching and has left children with robo-teachers who deliver robo-instruction. C’mon teachers, I know that you all can teach to the children to the degree that there are connections made between developing young minds and the content. What would you want and expect your child’s teacher to equip him/her for? If parents wish their child to become better equipped for success than when they were children themselves, then take a good look around your classrooms and understand that their/our futures depends on educators like you and I.

Teach outside and beyond the textbooks TODAY and EVERY school day!

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