Beyond Black History Month: Teaching Steinbeck and Malcolm X Side by Side
First, I'd like to acknowledge that, on the chance that you're a teacher who is actually celebrating Black History Month: Congrats. You haven't let the Common Core madness deter you from celebrating culture, whether it's your own or someone else's. But we all know how Black History Month works in schools: The decorations will spring up. Common faces like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Benjamin Banneker, and Will Smith will border the walls of a few classrooms or hallways. There might be a fact-a-day in the morning announcements, and one in 400 schools might have someone who knows the Black National Anthem. (I bet you're mumbling the lyrics after the fourth line.)
But, has it ever occurred to you that, as well-intentioned as this might be, we ought to take the next step and celebrate black history on March 1st as well?
We already know that Black History Month wasn’t meant to stay as Black History Month. Carter G. Woodson intended for this celebration to happen until it clicked for curriculum creators to speak to the story of the American Negro as part of the American history, and not just teach platitudes and the Civil Rights movement. Indeed, it's often said that when we stop celebrating Black History Month, people will start celebrating black history year-round, and there's no way I'll ever argue against that.
In fact, we should start celebrating all cultures and colors year-round so the need for specialized months for our marginalized groups would look antiquated. In other words, put John Steinbeck and Malcolm X quotes together, and celebrate The Beatles and the Temptations simultaneously. We can celebrate Michelle Obama as part of our First Lady lineage with Barbara Bush and Eleanor Roosevelt.
Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird in English class is a start, and so is having a black president. Yet, we have so much pushback against teaching black history in this holistic—and accurate—way, I always wonder if we'll ever not need a Black History Month. Education, the "civil rights issue of our time," has a severe lack of sincere educators willing to tackle the issue of diversity without trying to let go of their privilege, too. Too many teachers continue to tell themselves that race doesn't matter in the classroom because America is a color blind meritocracy—there is no need to teach the story of this nation beyond the usual series of Eurocentric explorers, wars, and entrepreneurs.
Black educators have a long tradition of stepping up to teach their students how inseparable black history and American history truly are. But with the decline of black teachers happening all over the country—Chicago is a prime example—it's time—if they aren't already—for our white brethren to teach on the issue of race with compassion and understanding. Black children still need to know that people who look just like them positively impacted the lives of others. They—and all other children—need to know that black Americans are—and will continue to be—role models for us all.
So, jump into Black History Month, and get your feet wet with some of this history. Do your research—you can find great resources in your local library or on the web—and drop the dime in a child’s ear. It might inspire them to aspire. But once February 28th hits, make sure you leave those chapters open and return to those bookmarked links.
Click here to add sharing ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Black History’ with educators you know to your GOOD “to-do” list.
A version of this post appeared at The Jose Vilson