American History, Social Studies, World History, Civics, Comparative Religions, and so forth, by any other name is basic background checking which cultivates respect and an appreciation of difference or ‘diversity’. For generations now, American children attending PreK-12 schools in either the public or private sector, are taught under a guiding instructional framework. This framework has a scope and sequence to dictate the specific content to be taught at each grade level. Within that sequence, information is to be presented developmentally appropriate to age and grade level. However, that which is inappropriate for learners in the 21st Century is both the scope and the sequence.
We have been presenting instructional content that is basically dismissive of the intended outcome and irrelevant to the target audience-the children sitting in the classroom who are to become global citizens. Also, it is disrespectful to their cultures and families at home, including the communities served by our schools. We teach diversely represented learners and quality educational experiences should not exclude them. A major part of delivering and providing quality learning experiences in our schools lies in the instructional content as much as the strategic execution of that content. Schools have failed students for far too long, and yet somehow we still wonder why more students aren’t performing at their best levels, why there is so much divisiveness and violence in and outside of schools.
Even deeper still is the messages we convey to our youngest developing minds in school settings. We teach as though we live in a homogeneous society. Surprise! We live in a global and diverse society, and that diversity exists in our classrooms- in human form. How can we greet students, other people’s children, and teach them as though they don’t exist and their ancestors didn’t exist-they are not important? We aren’t providing the hope and inspiration to ignite and sustain that natural inquisitiveness with which children are born. With the best of intentions, we are effectively and persistently missing the mark in schools. That mark is affirmation, validation, respect and the recognition of ALL learners which comes with the presentation of sufficient ‘mirrors’ in the classroom.
We desire to be culturally responsive educators who deliver content that is relevant to our students’ experiences as we engage them. However, authentic cultural relevance is not merely the recognition of the uniqueness of each child alone. It is authentic when we present information that highlights and explores their culture, and those of others which includes their peers. It is authentic and real-life relevant when we present information about their potential peers, colleagues, friends and neighbors with whom they may engage in the future. Authenticity is to be forthcoming with children at their earliest ages forward. It is this area of knowledge acquisition which should not be among the last subjects taught to children in school. We are better educators and better human beings when we offer positive information exchanges relative to diversity and history when we highlight positive contributions to society- no mater who made the contribution.
At present, we wait until students are in high school before we present and introduce the notion of globalism, when in reality, globalism is their reality even before they enter their first classroom. This is the reality of us all, and since we say that diversity is an important awareness among students, about which there must be respect, appreciation and celebration, then it must be introduced early. When we continue to wait until adolescence before we introduce in our instructional content, exactly what diversity and globalism is, then we continue to postpone the mindset we wish children to adopt.
There is no subject or content area from which we may not explore contributions made by any group of people on earth, especially African-Americans. Honesty in education and respect for diversity means that, as educators, we too must engage in fact-finding. Many of us were never taught this type of cultural relevance, and were never afforded the privilege of discovering other cultural influences upon society. Therefore, we must learn as well as teach in order to be honest educators, and respect others by demonstrating their relevance. Moreover, we can not expect parents to provide this information to their children for they, too, were not taught honestly in their school experiences.
In order to teach respect for diversity, global respect and multicultural awareness, and expect children to respect one another as well as themselves, the process must begin when they open their first textbook. This requires us, as educators and the adults in the room, to ensure that our textbooks are appropriately as diverse as themselves. African-American children must learn about other African-Americans, regardless of geography from the moment they enter the classroom, and every classroom thereafter. They need to see themselves from the start, and see others who look like themselves, as well.
Hispanic, Latinx, Spanish-speaking learners need to see and learn about others who share similar heritage, culture and experiences, and so forth. That awareness and affirmation is what comes with a truly quality educational experience provided by our schools. Every student will not be black or Hispanic, but they get to appreciate themselves and others, too….from the 1st day of school. This, for every learner, plants the seeds and the foundation for respecting one another. As it stands today, we teach about whites and America, disturbingly ‘watered-down’ and skewed in teaching the past.
Our false national narrative is drummed into children’s heads from Day 1. We teach as though the only people in America were and still are white. No attempts have been made to ‘fact-check’ those accountings, accomplishments or the realities of our past. Critical thinking skills are valued and are valuable to students, but we insult every child’s intelligence or the quest for knowledge and the truth. When we stand before a classroom of 25-30 small children and fill their heads with incomplete facts, that we then test them on, we are part of the problem, not the solution. For example, if blacks were in this country from the very beginnings, and we know this from historical facts, then where were they during times of war, peace, when discoveries were being made? Where are their discoveries and inventions? How and where did they live?
None of these questions are ever answered in school, in any subject or content area. When this country was founded, where was the rest of the world? What was life like in other countries that we teach about? We don’t teach these things ever, and we don’t explore other cultures, religions, diversity, until adolescence. That is far too late. The curriculum was designed for a different mindset in society. Believing that we have truly changed our global, racial and social attitudes and practices, it behooves us to teach within this ‘new’ more humanistic framework. No longer should noteworthy and logically relevant members of society be excluded from history.
No longer should we mask discoveries, inventions and important events, shaped by black people be excluded in our teaching scope and sequence. No more ‘Hidden Figures’ in history. Children aren’t receiving the types of information which contribute to harmony, self-respect, mutual respect, and globalism. In high school when we introduce world history, comparative religions, and address the diversity that exists every day, prejudices, biases, bullying, discrimination, and intolerance has already been growing in the hearts and minds of children.
“It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.”
Words first spoken by,
Frederick Douglass- African-American Abolitionist
Inviting engagement entails encouraging children to ask questions. By the time they are in high school, there are no questions that may be posed in class or at home that will prevent the implicit bias already perpetuated. Here’s an idea!- Let’s teach ABOUT and TO diversity from that first roll call. Our children and our nation will grow to be a more ‘united’ and indivisible United States of America! Think about it!