When it comes to Black history, the American education system has remained woefully underwhelming. Lessons about Black history are typically relegated exclusively to the month of February and only focus on Rosa Parks, MLK and maybe they’ll throw in the Ruby Bridges movie. The reckoning that arose from George Floyd’s death didn’t just affect adults, as students across America are demanding a fuller, more inclusive curriculum when it comes to Black and brown history.
The Associated Press reports that 12-year-old Ebele Azikiwe, a seventh grader from New Jersey, sent a letter to her school administrators last year requesting a better curriculum on Black History following the outcry surrounding Floyd’s death. She told AP that every year she’s received the same lessons on Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and slavery.
“We learned about slavery, but did we go into the roots of slavery?” Azikiwe told AP. “You learned about how they had to sail across, but did you learn about how they felt being tied down on those boats?” Her letter made it up to district superintendents and resulted in school officials pledging to create a fuller curriculum around Black history.
Azikiwe wasn’t alone in her request, as educators across the country told AP that students have been demanding a more inclusive curriculum.
The previous generation of courses focused on cultural awareness. What schools found, according to Maurice Hall — the dean of the College of New Jersey’s arts and communications school and a social justice scholar — was that students still had socioeconomic, cultural and racial blind spots.
Growing up with a majority point of view could mean thinking that the way a particular culture sees the world “is in fact the right way,” Hall said.
Connecticut implemented a law in December requiring high schools to offer courses on Black and Latino studies. New Jersey, where learning standards already included some diversity education lessons, last month became the latest state to enact a law requiring school districts to incorporate instruction on diversity and inclusion.
Michael Conner, the schools superintendent in Middletown, Conn., told AP that the current curriculum tends to focus on how non-European societies and cultures were marginalized, while focusing on the perceived “competence” and success of European cultures.
Conner co-signed with Azikiwe’s assessment of how Black history is taught in American curriculums. “When I look at my education, the only time I learned about Black history in school was during the month of February,” he said. “I learned about my culture at the dining room table with my mother and grandmother.”
Districts adding diversity to their curricula now have to determine how to do it and what that looks like.
In New Jersey, the education department is required to come up with sample activities and resources for districts. And some schools there and elsewhere are adding books to the curriculum or examining them in new ways.
In Middletown, Dan Raucci, an English supervisor, pointed out how “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee has long been a 10th-grade staple. Students and teachers are discussing whether Atticus Finch, the white attorney who defends a Black man accused of raping a white woman, is a “hero of today, or of that time period?”
But the district has added new books, like Jason Reynolds’ ”The Boy in the Black Suit,” a novel that follows a Black teenager as he deals with grief.
Lawmakers in New Jersey have introduced legislation that would require schools to create a welcoming environment, “regardless of race or ethnicity, sexual and gender identities, mental and physical disabilities, and religious beliefs.”
Of course, anytime anyone tries to do something that could result in a progressive, more inclusive society, conservatives have a bitch-fit, this being no exception. The conservative advocacy group Family Policy Alliance of New Jersey felt that by telling kids “Hey, don’t hate people because of how they love, look, or identify,” they were forcing students to adopt beliefs.
“Students should learn to be respectful of others’ beliefs and backgrounds based upon their unique experiences and cultures,” Shawn Hyland, the organization’s advocacy director, said in a statement last year. “However, ‘diversity’ trainings in public schools are the very opposite of respect.”
I find it deeply ironic that the people who have a temper tantrum anytime they aren’t the center of attention have the nerve to call anyone a snowflake.
There has already been pushback in some GOP-led states against these efforts at inclusion. In Iowa, lawmakers have passed a bill banning diversity training. In Idaho, a bill that would increase funding for universities was killed over diversity training. But please, tell me again how these people aren’t racist.