Same Textbooks, A Different Approach To Engagement

One particular subject that I am passionate about is American History. I know that World History is important to explore in the classroom, but we teach patriotism first. Both your children and my children are taught from the same playbook-white supremacy. It is taught from preschool forward. The problem with this is that it is packed with untruths. We need the truth to heal. And that is the truth.

man near chalk board with text

Educators, scholars and researchers, are presumed to be masters of information and the facts, along with the sources of information. Just like journalists, educators, teachers, are expected to be in a perpetual search for the full story. When disseminating information in school, children take it as EXPLICITLY verified and trustworthy facts, rarely, if ever, factoring in other vital considerations. They internalize only that which is discussed. Children think, ‘Why would a teacher teach false information to us?’! ‘It must be right’. Besides, children are taught to never question authority.

How many times has your child come home from school with a task related to what was taught that day? That’s called homework. If the teacher has taught a certain way to solve a math problem and your child doesn’t quite understand a procedure, he or she will reject your help if not done the exact same way taught in school. That child insists that your way is wrong. Teachers are almost ‘God-like’ figures.

What teachers say goes. A teacher is an educator and an educated educator teaches. Educators will have completed more school than children, and have mastered deductive reasoning and logic, and will only teach what they have researched as factual. They are not blind followers, especially since they teach your children to be anything but a blind follower.

History is to be based upon evidence, presented as definitive truth, no matter the chronology or context. Though evidence may be purposefully hidden or ‘erased’, it can and should be uncovered. The only thing necessary is the sincere desire to ‘fill in the blanks’. One should not have to leave a history class with questions of logic, when engaged conversations are encouraged and can be naturally fostered. History reads and flows like a story, which also connects it to language arts and other content areas. History relates to math, science, arts, music, sports, and so forth. History is life. It holds the stories about you AND me-not just you or me, since in every aspect of life, there lies at least two versions in EVERY story- an actor and the acted upon. Between them lies truth.

PROBLEM SOLVING

Have  you ever tried to solve a SEEMINGLY mysterious problem and create change without a full examination of the problem itself? Problem solving is the process of identifying problems and their causes, developing and evaluating possible solutions, and implementing an action or strategy based upon the analysis in order to achieve a desired goal or outcome. As a solution-focused person, unless you actually pinpoint problems at their root, only minimally effective solutions will result. In every learning content area, students are instructed to identify root problems in order to stop its spread; to stop perpetuating them.

In this society we have a terribly insidious problem to solve. It harms children and families on a daily basis. That problem is racism and white supremacy. There has been great resistance to to fully examine its root, for this entails revisiting our nation’s history with a critical eye. It is not so much about telling the story of slavery. That is a symptom, and an obvious one. What must be done to target the root of ‘normalized’ racism is to examine the period directly following the abolition of slavery.

In the classroom, there is no need to re-enact enslavement. Begin asking questions in the exploration of the period called ‘Reconstruction’ in our nation’s history. This was the beginning of efforts to erase black history, create barriers to civic engagement and upward mobility, create a false narrative and misrepresent the cause of the Civil War. White people were challenged to reconcile themselves with race, as blacks had finally entered society as people, citizens, not property. They were given new freedoms. Explore each new right they began to exercise and look for backlash. It is this that is critical to solving today’s problems. It also explains why little to no black history or societal contributions are readily available in texts. These were as a result of intentional concerted efforts

To take this approach in the classroom presents a challenge to educators, for it represents a true search for truth. The truth however, will contradict that which we’ve been taught and that which we teach.  The challenge is to possess the capacity to accept unpleasant realities with openness to separate oneself from personal and political beliefs. Upon discovery, an understanding of the impetus for policies, practices and perspectives that informed the problems leading into today. It is here that we can proactively prevent the younger generations from inheriting those racist ideologies.We cannot prevent its spread and perpetuation without identifying the root of it and how it permeates throughout society and impacts legacy policies and practices and mindsets that reinforce them.

We have noticed throughout American society, the disparities in many areas of life. At its root lay vital answers which will connect to the past. In classrooms, this is where students will be most actively engaged and develop their critical thinking skills. They will learn cause/effect and intent/impact on a societal level. Empathy, compassion, and the capacity to process the many aspects of life that intersect are fostered through this deep–dive approach to learning. ‘Root cause analysis’ ALSO  invites intelligent questions, collaboration and live conversations.

All students will identify as many causal factors as possible. Theoretically, the process looks a little something like this:

Step Characteristics
1.Define the problem
  • Differentiate fact from opinion
  • Specify underlying causes
  • Consult each faction involved for information
  • State the problem specifically
  • Identify what standard or expectation is violated
  • Determine in which process the problem lies
  • Avoid trying to solve the problem without data
2. Generate alternative solutions
  • Postpone evaluating alternatives initially
  • Include all involved individuals in the generating of alternatives
  • Specify alternatives consistent with organizational goals
  • Specify short- and long-term alternatives
  • Brainstorm on others’ ideas
  • Seek alternatives that may solve the problem
3. Evaluate and select an alternative
  • Evaluate alternatives relative to a target standard
  • Evaluate all alternatives without bias
  • Evaluate alternatives relative to established goals
  • Evaluate both proven and possible outcomes
  • State the selected alternative explicitly
4. Implement and follow up on the solution
  • Plan and implement a pilot test of the chosen alternative
  • Gather feedback from all affected parties
  • Seek acceptance or consensus by all those affected
  • Establish ongoing measures and monitoring
  • Evaluate long-term results based on final solution

man wearing gray dress shirt and blue jeans

In other words, teachers ask learners to voice their opinions on whether they believe that this concept called ‘racism’ is a problem in society. Before this begins, define the word ‘racism’ and what it looks like,  while inviting student participation. This helps to ensure that they understand what it means.

You can describe a hypothetical situation, age appropriate of course, to diagnose a perceived problem. Make sure that the focus is on the problem itself, not the symptoms. Use a ‘what should be’ model, which places focus on solution-finding. Then generate alternative solutions until several solutions have been proposed. This brings in brainstorming activities focusing on trying something new to allow for real problem-solving and improvement.

Next, evaluate possible solutions-alternatives to each be also evaluated to make sure they won’t cause other problems.Walk through what each would look like and agree on the best solution. Then revisit Reconstruction to identify the roots of racism today. Imagine what would be and what would have been in our society. Visit the created narrative that labeled black people as ‘problem’ people, instead of extraordinary people with problems. Explore where these ‘new’ narratives came from-how and why they emerged and gained momentum across society.

History can reflect truths and accuracy when we assume a critical stance, even using the existing textbooks which are widely circulated in our nation’s schools. Until the citizenry, white population, gains the courage to re-write history minus the whitewash, educators can strategically sift through the nonsense and uncover actual, documented truths about our past.

In our nation’s schools, all of those components of learning, growth and healthy development, as well as providing affirmation for people of color, are grounded in history. If we use what we have been given to transform history from rote learning to  engaged problem-solving-oriented instruction, we arm ourselves and children with the motivation to achieve and succeed in school and life. Educators can fulfill their role responsibilities in its purity, and not the role they were dictated to perform….even with the same old textbooks.

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