California Educator

February 2016

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A Shared History Black History Month is for all of us "The single most powerful word in our democracy is we. We the people. We shall over- come. Yes, we can. That word belongs to no one. It is owned by everyone." President Barack Obama T H E R E H A V E B E E N calls over the years to abolish Black History Month (as well as other race- and culture-specific months). As recently as January, actress and Fox News commentator Sta- cey Dash said that Black History Month should be eliminated, arguing that it is counter to American values of inclusiveness and integration. Most educators would agree that black history is part of American history and should be incorporated into the cur- riculum year -round . But Black Histor y Month af fords an opportunity to focus with more depth on history, events, peo- ple and culture in a way that informs, brings awareness — and instills pride. As such, it is a period during the school year that helps underscore every individual's contribution to, and con- nection with, our country's history. "I appreciate all cultures throughout the school year," said George Mejia, Corona-Norco Teachers Association, responding to our Facebook query on how educators approach Black His- tory Month. "During F e b r u a r y, I e n j o y t e a c h i n g a u n i t o n Martin Luther King Jr. and Jackie Robinson." "I teach black (and Mexican, and Native American , and Chi- n e s e , e t c . ) h i s t o r y throughout the year because black history is American history," s a i d Va n e e S m i t h - Matsalia, San Bernardino Teachers Association. "However, we celebrate African American culture in February." Caitlin Dennehy, a New Jersey educator who teaches a pre- dominately black class of middle school students, told MSNBC that the month offers a break from textbooks that largely focus on "dead white males." "I don't think black role models are as predominant as they should be" in curricula, she said. Black History Month is "useful in introducing conversations about where history has brought us and how we see racial dynamics in our community today." B l a c k Hi st o r y Mo n t h , a n d si m i l a r m o n t h s , c a n h e l p u ni f y stu d ent s a n d c om mu niti e s . For l e ss on p l a n s a n d resources that cover a variety of subjects and can be adapted to fit multiple grade le vel s, see and Teaching About Black History Month How can educators make sure students get the most out of black history and Black History Month? The Southern Poverty Law Center adapted the following suggestions of do's and don'ts from Pat Russo, professor in the curriculum and instruction department at SUNY Oswego. For detailed text, see black-history. Do: • Incorporate black history year-round, not just in February. • Continue learning. Explore multiple resources to provide an in-depth and thorough understanding of black history. • Reinforce to students that black history is American history, relevant to all students. • Relate lessons to other parts of your curriculum. By the time February comes around, the context of the struggle for civil rights and social justice should be familiar to students if you have already addressed such issues across the curriculum. • Connect issues in the past to current issues to make history relevant to students' lives. • Include the political and social context of the commu- nity's struggle for social justice. Do not: • Stop your "regular " curriculum, to do a separate lesson on Rosa Parks, on the Civil Rights Act or on Martin Luther King Jr. This trivializes and marginalizes anything you are teaching, making these leaders a token of their culture and ethnicity. • Decontextualize heroes or holidays, separating them from the larger social movement or historical place. • Focus on superficial cultural traits based on stereo- types. • Talk about black history in solely "feel-good" language, or as a thing of the past. • Limit the presentation to lectures and reading. Allow students an opportunity to discuss and reflect. • Teach with little or inaccurate information. Review resources to make sure they don't promote a Eurocentric perspective, which may misrepresent historical figures and social movements. • Shy away from controversial, ambiguous or unre- solved issues. Share the real-life experiences about racial realities in developmentally appropriate ways. 16

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