Teaching black history in schools reveals shortcomings


BENTON HARBOR, Michigan – In a school district that is 98% Black, black history is central to the curriculum for schools in the Benton Harbor area. But not all of Michiana’s school districts are so diverse, and a civil rights historian has said that adequately teaching black history is a major problem plaguing local schools.

As more and more black lives are lost, not only to the hands of the police but to a global pandemic over the past year, it is these statistics that stand out:

– “Black vaccination rates are lagging behind, despite a higher death rate”

– “The unemployment rate of black Americans exceeds that of whites”

“When people look at where the state of black America is today, the tendency, because of the way we teach it, is to blame black people for their situation, relative to a very historical process. insidious that produced the results we see today, ”said Darryl Heller, director of the Civil Rights Heritage Center.

“I think we’re in a case study right now if you look at what happened in our country in 2020, regarding uprisings across the black world. And the answer is yes, things will change as you go along, you have to do it, ”said Dr. Andrae Townsel, Superintendent of Schools for the Benton Harbor area.

But you must be wondering if we would be in this situation if subjects like black history were taught more thoroughly at a young age? Heller says no.

“Not being taught adequately is a big problem. And I think history teachers and how history, especially African American history, is kind of handpicked. Like the full depth of African American history is generally excluded, ”Heller said.

Many students learn from black trailblazers like Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman, but Heller said it wasn’t enough.

“We’re learning a bit about slavery. And the two people we learned about slavery are Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. We kind of spend a lot of African American history in the civil rights movement, but we’re never really told why a civil rights movement was needed. When we get to the history of civil rights, we learn more about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. And then we kind of moved on to Barack. Obama, ”Heller said.

Skipping parts of the story can mean that students don’t get the full picture.

“We learned that slavery was bad, but we ended it, things happened, but Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks kind of fixed that. And now look, Barack Obama, we had a black president, racism is over, we are done, “he said. “What I’m starting to see is what we’re learning is essentially a whitewashed story. It’s this positive and triumphant tale, this act where children learn that racism and discrimination is over. So why are people of color, why immigrants, why these other marginalized groups? What is their problem?

He said the learned ignorance was only part of the problem we saw on January 6 in our nation’s capital.

“When people storm the White House, I mean, the Capitol with Confederate flags. I’m talking about the fact that we’re going to take our country back, and that is included in that hour is the hour they learned. in American history the only ways are people. And that’s basically white people, “he said.” African American history, black history, is history American. And unless it’s taught like American history fully. The painful and shameful things as well as the triumphant and proud things that we can be proud of. We get this biased picture of who we are as Americans. as people in the world, and we stay disconnected from each other in these isolated groups. I don’t think we’re going to be able to engage the kinds of divisions that we have, and especially along the divide. racial. Unless and until we learn history because at the moment we speak two different languages.

Heller also teaches history at Indiana University at South Bend.

“When I teach students some parts of black history, African American history, but it’s American history, and they wonder, why did I just learn that,” a- he declared.

But why do we teach history, as we teach history?

“I think one of the reasons we don’t learn the depth and breadth of the story is to convey the retention of power in power. It serves their interests, not ours, ”he said.

So why is it important to properly teach black history? For that answer, we’re heading to schools in the Benton Harbor area, a neighborhood with a 98% black student body.

“Black history means excellence in the community, excellence in our state and excellence across the country to schools in the Benton Harbor area,” said Townsel. “The entire community of Benton Harbor has made an impact around the world. And it is important that our young people see who these agents of change are.

For Superintendent Dr. Andrae Townsell, the importance of black history goes far beyond the proper teaching of history.

“You have to consider that majority black students attend our public education system. So it should be a priority that these students understand their history, where they come from, where they are going and how they will continue to do great things. in our society, ”he said. “I think educators can continue to infuse black history into our curriculum just by paying attention to this goal, our goal needs to be relevant and part of real world solutions.”

But Heller, among others, says there’s still a long way to go for real change, and it’s not just students who need to learn.

“I think a lot of our teachers don’t know this story as well. I don’t think they’ve been taught enough. And so at this point it really takes some effort, you really have to put in some energy to learn this story. And that they’re really doing their kids and their students a disservice by leaving this out, ”Heller said. “I think we still have a long way to go. Because I think especially in your elementary schools, elementary high schools, most teachers count And unless we change the narratives in the textbooks, we are not going to teach history differently.

“Black history doesn’t have a section in the textbooks they should,” Townsel said. “If you really want to engage a youngster, you have to connect the lens to what’s going on in our real world, and black excellence is in our real world and they should learn more about it.”

Progress has already been made by teachers at the local level and it seems that the more attention is paid to this issue, the more there is a goal to make these changes.

The first step may just be to throw away those textbooks, but it comes at a cost that some schools may not be able to afford in these difficult times.


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