“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” —Bishop Desmond Tutu
This is Black History Month. In 1926, author, publisher, and historian Dr. Carter G. Woodson first proposed that educators dedicate one week of classroom time each year to teaching the history of Black Americans in the nation's public schools. Dr. Woodson maintained that Black students should be aware and proud of their heritage, and that all Americans should have the opportunity to appreciate contributions and stories from the African diaspora.
Only three states chose to participate in 1926, and North Carolina was one of them. In the 95 years since then, educators across the nation have haltingly continued to make corrective adjustments to the myopic public school approach to history instruction. It has taken almost a century to graduate from one week of Black history to one month. The next step is to recognize the obvious: that Black history is American history and should be incorporated fluidly throughout every student’s experience and every school’s curriculum. Multiple cultural perspectives are key to understanding where we’ve been and who we are now. Recognition of historic, scientific, literary, and artistic contributions from across the great diversity of our country is critical to learning. If we teach from only one cultural perspective, we are depriving all of our students of a complete education. American history includes the opportunity to learn about our country and ourselves not only through triumphant accomplishments, but also through our tragic failures. Painful growth is still progress.
There is current political debate about the wording of suggested revisions in state-required social studies standards. Revisions are required on a cyclical basis, to adjust for changes in society and updated teaching practices. The newly proposed revisions require incorporating Black History, teaching about slavery and racism, and teaching about oppressed people in this country as part of a year-round curriculum. Some people are concerned that studying our country’s errors might result in lack of trust and faith in our democracy.
ABS teachers express and celebrate love for our country and teach the positive value of democracy. But pride in our country is built not only through love of culture, land, and successes. Growth is also realized through our ability to recognize failure, admit it, and correct it. We have not yet achieved the lofty visions promised in the founding documents of our democracy. As we work to realize the dream of a truly democratic union, our goal as teachers is to celebrate our country’s victories and learn from our mistakes. That is the power of democracy, and it is truthfully reflective of our country’s wavering, experimental journey toward proving that a nation can be effectively self-governed.
Our school considers Black history to be history. We are in constant learning mode as educators, about how to present lessons in a way that is representative of the diverse populations of our country. We do not teach from the political perspective of liberal or conservative. Our goal is to teach honestly; to be inclusive and historically accurate. As teachers, we believe that it is critically important for us to invite our students to hear the voices and perspectives of all our people.