Do You Know How to Teach Black History?

Teaching outside of that box is to reach for content and contexts not found in the traditional texts. This also falls outside of the scope of the curriculum. However, to do so adds much more relevance to the learners, fuels their curiosity and affirms their culture-who they are.

In the traditional textbooks, diversity is MLK and Harriet Tubman, Pocahontas, and Crispus Attucks. George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglass comprise the extent to which the curriculum allows to demonstrate ‘respect’ and acknowledgement of diversity. Unfortunately, these figures, albeit significant to our history, do not qualify as authentic respect for  all. In the standard curriculum, black history always begins with slavery. This framework bears much of the ‘blame’ for the continued ignorance of the American population as a collective. To most learners, they believe that this population was born to be slaves, subservient and unimportant-No full context!

 “Our history did not begin in chains. … Young black school children don’t learn that our people mapped, calculated and erected …”
                                                                       Malcolm X

Teachers have always taught African American history as a supplement or mere footnotes to history.  In so doing, the ‘other’ perspective persists relative to groups who have been strategically marginalized. We need to see all children, particularly children of color, learning more about themselves in the everyday classroom– not only a few days allotted per school year. When instruction focuses on ‘minority’ groups’ ‘ achievement and social significance, the same few figures are introduced and explored.

In spite of  enslavement, Jim Crow and segregation, there have been countless figures with whom children can  and need to identify. Certainly, children would be delighted to discover that the widely popular toy, the ‘Super Soaker’, was designed  and patented by a black man. Children will be fascinated to know that the ‘traffic light’ was invented by a black man. There are countless other neat tidbits of enlightenment to explore. Perform a little more research in designing lesson plans.

With apparently perplexed educators, an overwhelming number of culturally-mismatched educators, our classroom instructors, have yet to systematically integrate ‘mirrors’ into their lesson planning. The results, intentional or not, demonstrate to students their own irrelevance. What is there to motivate their engagement in YOUR environment?

Active engagement and intrinsic motivation are stifled when children rarely to never see themselves in instruction.

As a parent, thinking about my child’s comprehensive growth and development,and academic performance, I would feel as though my child’s teachers are discriminating against my child. Should I choose to voice this opinion to schools directly, I would not be wrong. The absence of regular culturally-relevant instruction is a manifestation of bias-implicit or explicit.

The framework of public education guarantees and promises the intentional inclusion of all children into its instructional design. We are falling short. Children, especially those who live in ‘non-traditional family households, NEED to feel they are not alone, anomalies or that they exist as ‘extras’ in the classroom. They want to feel acknowledged, recognized and a sense of belonging. The curriculum does not support this belonging.

Opponents of curriculum change will tell us that there are students of color who do succeed and excel in school. They will use this as evidence of the efficacy of the curriculum as is. The counter-argument is that,  one or two children who succeed in spite of the lack of curricular equity are the anomalies-not the norm. We should note the numbers of children who sit in classrooms every day, detached  and do not succeed.

 ‘The vast majority of black and brown children are intellectually inferior‘. ‘Their parents and communities lie at fault for their deficiencies.’

We know this is pure nonsense.


  • Don’t blame parents for ‘poor’ student performance or the perceived absence of an expected core knowledge base.
  • Seek to develop authentic relationships with students and their families AND become a part of the community you serve, at least between 7:30am-3pm.
  • Reflect and acknowledge their core strengths. Build relationships and instructional strategies from that position. This mindset helps form partnerships. Respect and authentic appreciation don’t exist, or is superficial, if not supported by the curriculum.
  • With intentional determination to affirm ALL students,  offer and infuse historical facts into your instructional repertoire, in the students’ best interest. And please don’t limit them to just one month in the academic school year. They live and exist as people 365 days each year. Sometimes it’s 366. Ensure your instruction is responsive and enlightening for all throughout the year.

Are you already being a part of positive change and working towards the solutions you wish to see? Everyone has a role and responsibility to their community, society and themselves. We who speak about color-blindness are no longer accepted as solution-focused without doing the work necessary.

Without the walk, the talk is meaningless. Be culturally sensitive, color aware and race conscious—-at all times, in all you say and do….and teach!

We must show this in our everyday lives and in our work. As educators who  grade students’ tests, we must grade and critique our textbooks and instructional materials, too. Begin asking questions and telling stories in your classrooms to challenge those immaculate perceptions which reinforce negative assumptions and stereotypes.

 “Our history did not begin in chains. … Young black school children don’t learn that our people mapped, calculated and erected …”
Malcolm X

Some may say that we already have Black History Month in public schools, and that’s good enough. False. That is the beginning of equity and quality instruction. Carter G. Woodson, when he sought to impart the cultural and general knowledge that African-Americans were systematically denied, envisioned that this instruction become normalized, and integrated into the standardized curriculum. It is supposed to be used as a springboard.

We ask children to succeed and excel under the framework of being the ‘other’- the exception and somehow outside of the norm. We are informing them that they are running life’s race from behind and handing  to them no everyday champions to motivate their winning spirits.

We’ve normalized whiteness to the point where there is no intention in choosing instructional content or context because it’s already. The task is to address the whole child promote healthy identity formation into instruction and  cultivate an appreciation for self AND others. This requires effort never before taken to teach outside of the texts. It’s far too easy to rely solely upon the texts provided by schools. It takes conscious intent to consider your students’ comprehensive well-being.

Ask yourselves whether you perpetuate societal inequities in the classroom. This encourages failure for some and success for others. Ask yourselves if it is fair to deliver relevance  to white kids and little to none to children of color. Would you allow your child to attend a school where he or she spends 90% of their class time learning about people of color? Wouldn’t your child feel left out in that environment? Alone and unacknowledged, not celebrated and unappreciated. Is that not inequity?

Your child is not understood, because as they are taught, teachers must also learn. Teaching is a reciprocal process today. Teachers teach as much as they learn, and teachers can not teach that which they don’t know.

Educators have a concrete responsibility to affirm every child and ensure that a balanced curriculum exists in schools. A balanced education is true authentic quality education that every child deserves to experience. It is within that framework that academic excellence, positive social relationships, social justice and a united nation is borne.

Teachers, with the keys to a better, brighter more just and equitable future in your hands, it is up to you to reflect on whether you are being the change, the solution or perpetrators of the problems in society. Change is simply a broadened perspective, google search and an intentionally developed lesson away! The difference between success and failure can be access and opportunity! Ensure access and offer opportunity!

When one teacher determines and commits to teach appropriate facts alongside traditional information, sparks necessary conversations in the classroom, all children will achieve and engage. And when other teachers witness that change, they too, will make the same commitment.


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