It’s February! Yes, Black History Month has snuck up on us again! And never mind during this month there’s also all those other dates to share – Groundhog Day, Pres. Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays, Chinese New Year, and Valentine’s Day, not to mention it’s also the shortest month of the year (and who knows if Mother Nature will even cooperate and allow school to be open all month). What’s a teacher to do?
DO I MATTER?
I never liked history class as a student in school. Maybe its because I was missing from the textbook (yes, when I went to school we actually used textbooks for every subject). I actually only remember being IN the book if slavery was mentioned. Usually a paragraph or so, which simply boiled down to “Negroes were slaves.” And as that point was shared, my white classmates would sneak a look at their black classmates (as quickly and unobtrusively as possible). I often wondered – “What are they thinking?” I know what I was thinking, “I’m not a slave!” Heck, we never even discussed the content, it was just read and move on – the teacher didn’t talk about it, my friends never talked about it in the cafeteria at lunch, or on the walk home we never talked about it. Nobody did! Whether you were black or white, a grown-up or a kid, nobody was talking. Were we supposed to talk about it? Was I supposed to feel ashamed?
The tumultuous 60’s of the Civil Rights Movement were taking place during my time in elementary, middle, and my freshman year in high school. So I was in school when President Kennedy was assassinated. I can remember my 4th grade teacher crying while huddled in the doorway talking with other teachers. Crying! Teachers didn’t cry! We didn’t talk about it - school was dismissed and we were told to go straight home.
I was in school when the Black leaders were assassinated - Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. History was being made and still there was no discussion in any of my classrooms. I remember being sent home when Dr. King was assassinated. Neighbors huddled around the TV as Walter Cronkite shared with America the tragic news. Shouting! Tears! But nobody talked to me about it. I heard snippets of conversations among the adults in my home and neighborhood. What did it all mean?
REASON TO TEACH IT
If we are going to study history, American history – then let’s make sure the whole story is told. We should know the influence of ALL peoples in this nation. I don’t believe we are going to see that story taught anytime soon, so why not make this the year we promise, as parents, to teach our Black history to our children throughout the year?
Quite honestly, I wonder what makes us think that teachers can tell our story better than we can? When I think back – I’m so grateful that I attended a historically Black college (as did my 2 kids) for it was there that I truly learned my history. Not in elementary, middle, or high school. Not from my parents. I learned it as a college student. And it didn’t end there; it’s on going for me. I’m always learning, finding a new book or a new article that adds to my knowledge base. My hubby loves history so we have great conversations about our history and any new information we learn. History is being made every single day and we as Black people are a part of that history.
HOW TO TEACH IT
I know you are probably thinking you aren’t a teacher and you have lots of questions. “How can I teach history?” “Do I even know enough?” “Where do I even start? “
First of all, this is your history too and trust me you probably know way more than most teachers. I recommend you begin with your own family’s history. Tell them the stories about when you were little. Where were you born? Where were your parents born? Actually that’s how it starts in school at the kindergarten level. I’m sure your child has gotten that assignment – make a poster of you and your family, what do you like to do, where are you from, what do you like to eat, etc. That’s how the concept of family and community is introduced (the social studies foundation is being laid).
History is usually taught in time periods or by themes. Once you know what is being taught to your child in their class during the school year, you can simply follow along and supplement the information with Black history. This is a lot easier to do today with the Internet as a valuable resource to find information.
Just to give you an idea, if the class is studying:
- Battles/War – Did you know African Americans fought in EVERY battle even when enslaved?
- Civil Rights Leaders – There are many and this history is so rich showing how involved even the young people were – from young Ruby Bridges to college students like The Greensboro Four as well as the brave Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and on and on.
- Government – There are a ton of “firsts” - history-making moments for African Americans in our government. There are the first elected officials during Reconstruction to our first Supreme Court Justice, to our first African American Attorney Generals – a male and a female and of course our first African -American President!
- Space – Not a problem, we have astronauts and the fascinating astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, the present director of the Hayden Planetarium.
- The Arts - This includes art, dance, and music – there is so much fascinating history here to explore.
- Sports – The Negro League Baseball, or Jackie Robinson’s story, as well as our many medal winning Olympians like Jesse Owens and Wilma Rudolph among others. All of these athletes displayed grit, determination, and discipline in order to succeed.
- Inventors, Scientists, and pretty much anything your child will study, you can make it come alive for your child by sharing our part in this history.
Adding movies like The Tuskegee Airman, or Jackie Robinson’s story is also bringing history to life for your child. Another good resource is your PBS television station. Don’ t forget you-tube, another valuable resource. A trip to the library should definitely be a part of your plan.
TALK ABOUT IT
Whether you are reading wonderful picture books, an article, visiting an historical site, or viewing a movie/documentary just don’t forget how important it is to talk about these experiences with your child…make the connection for them –share the important underlying messages, point out the persistence and resilience of our people. Show them how amazing we are as a people and more importantly explain how this Black history is a part of American history.
Who better to instill that greatness in your child than you? It begins with knowing their history, their value and the contributions of Black people in the making of this country.
And don’t worry most teachers will be more than happy to let your child share a new book or an experience with the class.
See you next Wednesday!