The Importance of Teaching Black History

Back-to-School: The Importance of Teaching Black History

Blog opening written by Marcus Stein – former middle/high school school teacher and current Teacher Success Champion at Kami. 

I didn’t discover the significance and importance of Black History Month until I became a teacher.

This is in large part because most of my Black History Month experiences involved me playing the role of Langston Hughes in the community Black History Month program. One year, my school changed it up and assigned me Thurgood Marshall, and all I remembered was the wig and beard. It was simply a yearly ritual- all the outspoken black kids pretty much had to participate in the yearly Black History Month program.

It wasn’t until I became the deliverer of information (a teacher) that I realized exactly why it was important for me and my classmates to study and educate others about significant moments in Black history. 

As a teacher, my job was to deliver instruction to kids – using curricular materials… But those materials—the literature, science books, historical documents, and many other resources—were mostly created and curated by non-African Americans.

“In fact, in 2016, Black, Latinx, and Native authors combined wrote just 6% of new children’s books published.” – LEEANDLOWBOOKS

Thus, in order for learners to have a thorough understanding of the Black American experience, schools host assemblies like an annual Black history program.

Once I became a teacher and served on the organization side of the Black history program, I made it a point to explain to my students of all races that the BHM program was NOT just another moment to get out of class. It’s an opportunity to learn that the Black experience was more than slavery and segregation. 

And with an open mind, a BHM program can:

  • Raise awareness about lesser know, prominent Black figures
  • Provide Black perspectives about American history
  • Inspire innovation and creativity in underrepresented students

And now, rather than dreading the moment when I’m asked to play Langston Hughes, I get excited. Because I know that I have the potential to appreciate and understand the Black experience in America.

The Do’s and Don’ts

As vital as these lessons can be, Black History Month deserves so much more than a few documentaries and an art project. Here are a few ways you can up the impact of your lessons, and avoid perpetuating any stereotypes.

Do…

Include Black history outside of BHM
Use Black History Month to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.

Your own research
To understand Black history, you need to look past a few textbooks that probably weren’t written by African American authors. Explore a varied range of resources and be open to learning along the way.

Reinforce “Black” history as American history
Black history is relevant to all students no matter their background. Make sure this is understood through the lessons you teach. This can be done by connecting issues in the past to those still happening today. Making your subject personal will help get your point across a lot clearer.

Don’t…

Separate Black history from “normal” lessons
Pausing your regular curriculum to teach a Black history lesson further marginalizes the subject and reinforces the idea that what you’re teaching isn’t as important as the “normal” curriculum.

Focus on the superficial
It’s great to celebrate Black music, food, or fashion, but be careful not to fall into highlighting stereotypes rather than the culture or history. Be sure to explore the social and political context behind what we know, that allowed Black culture to establish itself the way it has.

Shy away from the controversial
Avoiding sensitive or unresolved subjects invalidates real-life experiences – share these stories and racial realities in developmentally appropriate ways.

Think you’re not qualified
You don’t need to be a person of color to discuss race, but you do need to be comfortable and confident before you start. Build your knowledge about each topic and have open communication with educators of color for support and feedback.

 
Where to start

There are plenty of appropriate resources online to get you started, like this collection from the BBC, or these from Lesson Planet. But always do your own research, ask for feedback from Black peers, and don’t forget to have fun – your approach and goals for these lessons should be no different to any other, and students should always leave full of insight and wanting more!

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