Transforming Teaching History in School: Why Every Child Needs a Hero


Every child needs at least one hero. There is no straight and fast definition, or specific embodiment of what constitutes a hero, but, what we do know is that fictional characters, uni-dimensional figures, who appear in books, or  other media often will not suffice. There are so many real-life heros, and ‘accidental’ mentors from whom we can draw strength needed to push through life’s challenges and the uncertainties. Children’s coping skills and their sense of self, purpose and life goals are being formed during the early school years, and they need heros and examples of both uncommon and common valor, kindness, humanitarianism, …womanhood, manhood….in all diverse representations.

They need heros to tell their story, share their struggles, their triumphs, and chilren need teachers to teach and tell the life stories of people who came from poverty, hard times, ‘adverse’ life circumstances, faced those adversities, and used them as stepping stones rather than erecting brick walls behind which they remained. 

Heros can be fictitious characters, but are best as real relatable persons to help provide a sense of determination that will reverberate within them-to engage in self-talk that says,’I can do it, too’. Sometimes parents are a child’s heros, and that is often very good. For children with few positive role models around them to inspire and fuel their pursuits, they take what they can get.

Often, the reality is that due to the lack of exposure to relatable heros, a substitute- stand-in, a ‘good-enough’ appears. This is the gang leader, the drug dealer, the drop out, the drug addicts, and marginalization recreates itself, as children settle. They stop looking for someone to save them from themselves, in order that they continue to face hopelessness and underlying anger.

There are everyday heros, people of the present and of the past, who engaged in great fights against something ‘wrong’ or ‘unfair’. These are the MLKS, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X personalities, and they were relatable yet heroic people. They were driven to fight for something bigger than themselves. So, there are everyday heros, who  overcame, surmounted, and amidst turmoil and trauma,  emerged triumphant. They represent the famous firsts and the geniuses within their areas of expertise, interest and aptitude.

How many of these African-Americans can you identify?

There are: George Washington Carver, Tiger Woods, Benjamin Banneker, Madame CJ Walker, Scott Joplin, Medgar Evers, Shirley Chisolm, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Arthur Ashe, Paul Robeson, Marian Anderson, Dorothy Dandridge, August Wilson, Alvin Ailey,  Charles Drew, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Benjamin Carson, Andrew Young, Colin Powell, Percy Sutton, Mae Jamison, Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Richard Wright, Leroi Jones, Sonny Carson, Ida B. Wells,  Kenneth Clark[1st Black president of the APA],  Sarah Goode, Jesse Owens, Willie Mays, Alexander Dumás[though French national-of African descent], Frederick McKinley Jones[refrigerated truck systems], Lewis Latimer, Elijah McCoy, Lloyd Quaterman[Manhattan Project, worked with Einstein and Fermi], Walter Sammons[hot comb patent], Granville Woods, Euclid[African], Charles Chappelle[long distance flight airplane], Lonnie George Johnson[SuperSoaker gun], Henry Blair[early spark plug], John Albert Burr[ rotary blade lawn mower], Phil Brooks, disposable syringe] and the list goes on. This page couldn’t hold the full range of heroes and potential heros to present to African-American children across the country, and around the world. Not only do children of color need this kind of information, but white children especially need to appreciate and value people of color. The world needs to be aware of all of the positives, the number of positive contributions and the potential contributions of people of African, Asian and Spanish descent can and have made to the world. Out of the darkness, let’s bring in some light, enlightenment, insight, inspiration, and appreciation. For every child needs a hero-unlock them!  

Give heros to ALL children, not just fairy tales, fables and myths! Give them some truths, some reality, some hope, some dreams, motivation, and validation. They are worthy people in society, have always been and will always be. If we tell children they can dream and with hard work, be what and who they want in this world of dreamers and doers….prove it to them. Give to children who learn and attend our nation’s schools, the African, Asian, Mexican, Greek, American, and African-American  heros. Every child needs a hero!

Don’t tell them that they CAN achieve, overcome, and rise above their difficulties, challenges, traumas, and all circumstances…. Give examples-tell true to life stories about how others before them have lived, what they survived, and how they came out stronger, faster, better….triumphant! Every child needs a hero- not the same few again and again, but those whose lives and personalities were and are as unique as theirs. Tell the whole story!

Spend at least an entire lesson each week discussing every character we introduce in class and invite questions. Make them come to life for the students, rather than reducing incredible life journeys to a Cliff’s Notes snapshot. Tell the whole story, and unlock potential! Give heros! How would we feel if we attended school for at least 12 extremely important years of our development, and we only saw 2 or 3 people- important, real life heros who make us proud to be here? Would your parents have not protested very loudly if you learned about people who never looked like you in school? 

Learning is building upon a foundation of potential and acquiring more knowledge, information and skills than was possessed yesterday. So, throw out the conventional textbooks, with their conventional nonsense, and with the curiosity of 2-year olds, seek out new sources of information. Make learning a more enriching and engaging experience for the children. Conventional wisdom is that we have denied this to their parents years before, and positive change begins with the children we see before us today.

Teach African-American children about their ancestors, their people, tell them how they survived and how they thrived, succeeded, and pioneered, even though this information has been hidden from general view for centuries already. Let them know that they, too, are greater than their circumstances. They, too, can be heros! Creativity means thinking outside of the box, and the established curriculum and their standard issue textbooks are all guided by a narrowly constructed box.

“Mommy, why does no one look like me?”

How sad we all are. That is child abuse and neglect on a national scale, and that is very sad, indeed!


2 thoughts on “Transforming Teaching History in School: Why Every Child Needs a Hero

  1. So Important! So many unsung heroes in our community that our children need to meet and learn from.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely true. There are many everyday heroes that children know nothing of. In fact, school teachers haven’t a clue themselves, and that too, is very sad. Really speaks to the desperate need for curriculum revision, and teacher training, not just ‘diversity’ training, but enlightenment on the contributions of people of color, women, LGBTQ, and the otherwise ‘invisible’ people in our nationally standardized curriculum.

    How do we stop the hate except by honest inclusive education? Do we really intend to teach ALL children or still in the same ways, with the same interests at heart-middle class whites? We are global, and must teach accordingly. No more imperialism. Really passionate about this one, and that makes your site ultra-important to the process of creating true equity in affirmative education.


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