Black history education could expand in Tennessee

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Students in Tennessee may soon learn more about black history, following the recent passage of a bill that requires schools to infuse multiculturalism throughout the K-12 curriculum, with attention specific to black history in grades 5-8.

In addition to strengthening Black history teaching in middle school, the bill makes a subtle but significant revision to a current state law that says schools and districts “should include” teaching about black history. black history and black culture. If the legislation is signed by Governor Bill Lee, “should include will change to “must include,” making teaching black history a requirement rather than a recommendation.

Representative Yusuf Hakeem, who championed the bill in the state legislature, wanted the planned law to come into effect in time for next school year, but the final version of the bill delayed enactment until in 2025-26 to align with a planned state social studies review. standards.

The State Board of Education‘s social studies standards review begins this summer with a public survey. Officials will use that feedback to draft revised standards that meet the new requirements before the second survey window in late 2022 or early 2023, council spokeswoman Elizabeth Tullos said..

While several Tennessee social studies standards already reference characters and events related to African-American history, Hakeem said he hopes the bill will help students better understand how the Black history contributes to “our shared history here in America.”

“I believe that black history cuts across all periods of American history,” the Chattanooga Democrat said at a recent committee meeting. “Every war this nation has had, since the Revolutionary War, black people have participated in those wars on behalf of our nation. I think it’s important that people can see themselves in our story, because we’re all in this together.

The increased attention to black history in Tennessee comes at a turning point in the teaching of history in the United States nationwide. After the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the publication of the New York Times 1619 Project, and a rise in racial tensions under the Trump administration, conservatives responded with a war on critical race theory teaching , leading several Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican state officials must curtail classroom discussions of race, gender, privilege and oppression.

Meanwhile, Democratic or bipartisan measures in states such as Delaware, Illinois and California have expanded education on racism, prejudice and ethnic studies. The College Board also pilots an advanced-level African American studies course in about 60 schools nationwide, including White Station High School in Memphis.

Tennessee’s legislation is narrower than the broader bills recently passed in Maine and Delaware. Even with the simplified text, getting the votes to pass the legislation was a years-long journey for Hakeem. A similar bill failed to gain widespread support last year. Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown remained critical of this year’s version of the Senate bill.

“I think that would require the infusion of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout K-12, and for that reason I would oppose legislation,” Kelsey said during of a committee hearing in March.

Two other Republicans joined Kelsey in opposing the law in the Senate, Sen. Joey Hensley of Hohenwald and Sen. Mark Pody of Lebanon. In the House, Rep. Kelly Keisling and Rep. Paul Sherrell voted no.

Senator Raumesh Akbari of Memphis, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, said the movement to increase black history teaching fills a gap in education and empowers all students to acquire a more complete education.

“If black history wasn’t ignored as a byproduct of American history, I don’t think we would have to get this attention,” she recently told fellow senators. “It’s important that students receive a comprehensive education that includes every contribution, whether it’s from someone who is black or white, Mexican or Asian. And I think that’s why we’re emphasizing the importance of this now. If that existed, we wouldn’t need to have a law.

Bureau Chief Cathryn Stout, Ph.D. oversees coverage of Chalkbeat Tennessee. Contact Katherine at [email protected]

Tommie Curry contributed to this report.

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