When we only teach black history in the month of February each school year, we are teaching children to believe that blacks and their history are important only during that one month. We also blame students for not possessing knowledge in areas never introduced or taught with any degree of relevance. Students should not be held at fault for their lack of knowledge or the motivation to acquire knowledge. We don’t give them much to hold on to or be excited about learning new concepts. It is they who put the curriculum together who are at fault. But then again, there is nothing productive in playing the ‘blame game’ either.
By not integrating black history into the school curriculum, we are doing a terrible disservice to millions of children each school year, black and white. We are essentially telling children of color, implicitly of course, that they do not, have never, and will never matter to America, society or themselves.
In 1925, son of a former slave, Carter G. Woodson, proposed and established Black History Month to commemorate and celebrate Americans of African descent. Woodson, an African-American journalist and author, founded the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. On Feb. 12, 1926, the first Black History Month celebration occurred, and although black history is taught in our schools and universities, it remains limited to this single and shortest month of the calendar year. That is it, and very little information is ever taught.
What Woodson intended was for his efforts to be a starting point for conversation, expansion of knowledge of history, and more importantly, it was intended to be fully integrated into the public school curriculum. The more information students acquired about African-Americans, the more that it becomes evident that it is relevant in every core subject in school. Black history transcends every content area, field of study, career area and the entire complexity of society.
Outside of February, can students tell us or even remember the significance of Brown vs. The Board of Education? Can students tell us the significance of Abraham Lincoln? What about Thurgood Marshall or Benjamin Banneker, or Madame C.J. Walker? Do you know?
There are some names students rarely hear about unless taught about during black history month. These names should be taught throughout the year. Some of those who pioneered the education path for African-Americans consist of: Kelly Miller, the country’s first African-American graduate student in mathematics; Fanny Jackson Coppin, the country’s first African-American principal and Dorothy Lavinia Brown, who became the first African-American female surgeon in the South in 1954.
These are rarely names a student can recall from learning about during black history month. For many, black history remains only understood if one is taking a specific course or majoring within a certain department. In order to make black history tangible outside of just one month, the focus must become blended with topics and discussions that encompass more than just the black race.
Every month should focus on a blend of all minority history within the school curriculum to give a broad approach. In the 21st Century and beyond, in an information driven society and the global economy, we can no longer afford to believe or rely on the country being led by just a chosen few strategically. It is an almost certainty that the students learning in China and Russia are learning more about this country, and the influence of African-Americans on this country’s economy and the discoveries of these people, than our own children.
The beauty of a well-rounded education is that it facilitates well rounded better informed empathic and successfully effective leadership. As strong as we feel our nation is on the world stage, we greatly limit this strength by omitting the segments of our population who should be adding to that strength. By keeping some weak, we make ourselves, the collective, weaker and superficially powerful. What are we except a collective? Without diversity, who would we send abroad to defend and protect our global interests, fight our battles and potentially, give up their lives for our freedom and values? Why do we perpetuate unnecessary in-fighting? When a nation is divided, one cannot expect to lead as a global leader.
We can, however, alter our national trajectory, not by removing diversity from our national landscape, but by using the strengths they bring to strengthen the collective. Given the choices of immigration policies oft he past, diversity is and will forever be among us, and collectively, the minority become the majority. There is nothing that can be done to undo that reality. Not today; not tomorrow.Therefore, it behooves us to appreciate the strengths they bring to the table, teach about it, respect it, and celebrate the humanity within us all. We demonstrate that by weaving a new inclusive curriculum to frame public education by which children learn to understand that we are all in this country called the United States of America together.
In the end, it will be the little black, Hispanic[including Mexican], Asian, Arab AND white children who will comprise future leadership. Either we strengthen them together now or watch our own destruction later. The most intelligent choice demands that we appreciate one another today, and teach our future leaders to appreciate one another. Our future begins with revisiting the past and framing education under the purpose of preparing children, and ourselves, as old ‘farts’, for productive national and global citizenship.
The future should not mirror the past, because look at where we are now-a nation unnecessarily divided, because we continue to cultivate an ignorance that enables others to utilize the strategy of ‘divide and conquer’! And triumph! We are globally vulnerable to that strategy as long as we selectively exclude some of us and arm others. The past has taught us that this tactic leads and fuels civil uprisings. We are witnessing but the start. The more we empower one another as a nation, the more powerful we become as a globally competent nation.
Carter G. Woodson began the movement, and I’m certain that he intended for it to be just a start for educators and all citizens to become change makers, change agents and cultural ambassadors, unafraid to embrace the past, live in the present and teach for the future. Let us do exactly that…boldly!