Reform education for equity now

We+must+incorporate+more+Black+history+into+our+schools.

Photo Design by Maddy Truka

We must incorporate more Black history into our schools.

African-American history is American history. There is no doubt that our curriculum, and even the way we interpret the past, does not reflect that truth or even a mere semblance of it. The teaching of African-American history must transcend slavery and civil rights––especially because these two subjects are frequently taught in a flawed way. While these are indubitably paramount moments in the course of history, they are not the only moments deserving of our attention. Such a selective education of African-American history is a disservice to humanity because it renders us unable to progress with such an absence of an accurate foundation of knowledge. Students have already faced, and will continue to face, the significant harm of inadequate content unless a change is made. In the name of progress and justice, education must be reformed to ensure an accurate teaching of history–all history. 

But in your history, we were deprived [and] controlled, all these things. But where is our history?”

— junior Bri Davis

“I want to be able to learn my culture, my background and to know where I came from because yes, I am African-American, but there is more to me. There’s a deeper past; there are so many things that I want to know that I can’t because it’s not being taught in schools,” junior Bri Davis said. “Yes, we were in it. But in your history, we were deprived [and] controlled, all these things. But where is our history?”

Necessary content about African-American history is missing in action, creating inaccuracies and breeding ignorance in our classrooms. In an analysis of social studies curriculum by state conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a letter grade was assigned to each state, “grading” how they studied the Civil Rights movement. Missouri was among 19 other states who received an ‘F’ as their grade. These states failed to mention the Civil Rights Movement in state-level curriculum or did so in such a minute manner that it had to be disregarded. Missouri’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released course curriculum for grades six through 12 fails to mention the Civil Rights Movement once in the entire 42 page document of standards. The issue doesn’t begin and end here, however. The implications of not teaching African-American history are devastating to students and society. 

“At the end of the day, it’s really unfair because all we talk about is slavery. We don’t talk about the accomplishments or achievements or the growth. It’s always about how black people were controlled or didn’t have the right to vote. When I sit in class and you talk about slavery, every time we do a unit on it or talk about it, I don’t want to be in the classroom,” Davis said. “I want to stand outside the classroom until we’re done with the entire unit. I’ve heard it all for almost 12 years of school, and I’ve heard the same thing over and over again. I’m tired of [being looked at when people think], ‘oh, they know all about this,’ and guess what, yeah I do but I don’t want to anymore. I want them to know that it hurts when they don’t put any effort to help me learn more than just slavery.”

I want to stand outside the classroom until we’re done with the entire unit. I want them to know that it hurts when they don’t put any effort to help me learn more than just slavery,”

— junior Bri Davis

Whitewashed curriculum merely continues trends ingrained in our whitewashed world. It harms students––white students––who are not given the chance to think critically of their own heritage and recognize the empire of mistakes that create the cracked foundation of American culture today. It harms all students who aren’t given an accurate teaching of their history and the wrongdoings of America, students who are brainwashed into believing in American excellence and ignoring American immoral past. Most importantly, it harms African-American students who are robbed of the chance to learn about their own culture and history. Teaching the bare minimum of Black history as we see too often today paints the fallacious portrait that African-American history starts with slavery and ends with the words “I have a dream.” This notion eviscerates an entire culture, centuries of tradition and millions of revolutionary individuals who are folded into the torn pages of a history book that will never be taken off the shelf. 

We need to do better. Education can be reformed. Curriculum can be altered. Perspectives must be changed. It’s not a question of how we can do this, but a question of how fast we can do this. African-American culture and history must be incorporated into all aspects of the classroom. English teachers can encourage students to read books by African-American authors. Science classes can note the accomplishments and contributions of African-American scientists. History––a no-brainer––can work to trace the evolution of Black culture from its roots to today, teach a more nuanced look at African-American life in America, and teach parts of Africa American history that are not slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Math teachers can look at the legacies of African-American mathematicians, compare the rates of pay for African-Americans to White Americans and look at the consequent income inequalities. With the internet and wealth of resources at the fingertips of any teacher, there is no reason for African-American history to not be taught.

At the district level, social studies curriculum is being reformed for upcoming school years. One of the goals of the rewrite is to incorporate more minority voices. 

We’re doing much better than we have. We’re not perfect. We’re never going to be perfect, but we’re getting better,”

— social studies teacher and curriculum writer Kristen Collins

“In the curriculum writing, we have a checklist to ensure that diverse voices are being heard, paying more attention to women’s history, Latino history, etc. It’s more intentional this time to ensure that we’re incorporating a variety of voices. I think that for a lot of teachers––because we have a big workload––you find your niche and keep learning more about what you’ve been teaching,” social studies teacher and curriculum writer Kristen Collins said. “Now, we have a lot more learning to do, but the district is going to support our professional development with each other and bring in more people to help us. The district is being intentional in ensuring that we have the support to help us in terms of including minority voices. We’re doing much better than we have. We’re not perfect. We’re never going to be perfect, but we’re getting better.”

Progress has already begun. With curriculum in the classroom changing, it’s imperative to recognize the burden we continue to carry within ourselves. We’re cognizant of the issue and aware of the injustices that have manifested our realities. Methods of change exist, and we need to take the first steps in the marathon to reach justice. Enabling change starts today and will never end. The time to act is now, and the burden of doing so is only growing heavier.