After the Protests, What Do We Want From Schools?

The following introduction, taken from a book published in 2018, ever so poignantly echoes every idea, before thought novel and uniquely my own. In fact, this excerpt represents the best efforts that public education can make towards creating a more just society. It is the best chance that we have to foster a new social reality, framed by a new mindset that fully and consciously accepts societal diversity and recognizes the strengths and truths once omitted about black people and our collective American history. The new knowledge imparted to youth will enrich lives and help erase disparities, implicit bias and the clearly systemic injustices about which the world is now protesting.

The title of the book “Introduction to Teaching for Black Lives- Black students’ minds and bodies are under attack.”begins as such and reads like a story intimately allowing readers a peek into conversations and thoughts of black students that go unsaid in the classroom. Either by choice or reading the climate of safety and support within those settings, educators are left to their own devices. They continue to rely on those false narratives and teach with blind inconsideration of the black faces and black lives who sit among them each day.

The book begins with:   

“Fifteen-year-old Black student Coby Burren was in geography class at Pearland High School near Houston in the fall of 2015. As he read the assigned page of his textbook, he noticed something that deeply disturbed him: A map of the United States with a caption that said the Atlantic slave trade brought “millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” Coby took a picture of his textbook and texted it to his mother, adding, “We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” along with a sarcastic emoji. Not only had the McGraw-Hill textbook replaced the word “slave” with “workers,” they also placed the chapter on the enslavement of Africans in the chapter of the book titled “patterns of immigration”—as if Africans came to the U.S. looking for a better life.

In the winter of 2017, a mother in Connecticut wrote about how she was troubled by a worksheet on slavery that her daughter had completed for school. The question asked, “How were the slaves treated in Connecticut?” Her daughter had initially written, “The slaves were treated badly and cruelly,” but crossed that out and replaced it with the answer that was written in the textbook, which stated slaves were, “often cared for and [the slave owners] protected them like members of the family.”

From the north to the south, corporate curriculum lies to our students, conceals pain and injustice, masks racism, and demeans our Black students. But it’s not only the curriculum that is traumatizing students.

In October of 2015, a Black girl in South Carolina was ripped out of her desk and thrown across the room by a police officer in the school for allegedly refusing to put away her cell phone. The video captured by a classmate of the incident went viral. The officer who brutalized the girl was not charged with a crime and instead both the girl videotaping and the girl thrown across the room were arrested and charged with “disturbing schools.” In May of 2017, surveillance video revealed a police officer at Woodland Hills High School in Churchill, Pennsylvania, choked and body slammed a Black boy in the office.

Recent data reveals that school security officers outnumber counselors in three out of five — and four out of the top ten — of the biggest school districts in the country, including New York City, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County, and Houston.

These examples reveal some of the policies that result in pushing kids out of school, making it difficult to graduate, then difficult to get a job, and finally more likely that they will end up in jail. This school-to-prison-pipeline begins with a curriculum that conceals the struggles and contributions of Black people and other people of color. It is a curriculum that fails to respect young Black people as intellectuals, and ignores their cultures, communities, and concerns. In the majority of textbooks, African Americans struggles and contributions are minimalized, portrayed as blatant stereotypes, or confined to a few roles that are acceptable to mainstream white society. This absence (or destructive presence) begins in elementary and continues throughout a Black student’s schooling.

Even when teachers include African American history, they often fail to consider the methods used to teach about Black lives to Black and non-Black children. Command and control lecture and rote memorization are not effective means of teaching for Black lives. Indeed, teaching for Black lives means just the opposite: engaging students in critical self-reflection, grounding our curriculum and teaching in their lives and communities, and orienting them towards community activism and social transformation.

Teaching for Black lives means that we can’t relegate Black history to certain historical time periods or events and we must include Black lives in all aspects of curriculum including science, math, literature, and the arts. Teaching for Black lives also means considering the loneliness of learning about one’s history when you might be one of a few students in class (or few teachers in a school) that this history represents.

When Black history and Black contributions are denied in the curriculum and by those who teach it, Black people are themselves denied. Consequently, students who become disinterested in a course or vocal about its shortcomings and historical erasure are often labeled defiant and pushed out of the classroom. These students may then get swept up by police officers stationed in school and be hit with criminal charges for behavior that was once handled by school administration. If the offending student is sent to administration, they are often required to implement zero tolerance discipline policies prescribed by the school district that mandate suspension or expulsion for various infractions. When a decision to suspend a student is left up to an administrator’s discretion, Black students are far more likely to be punished than their white peers. When students miss school, they fall behind in their classes and are more likely not to pass. The pipeline continues with the lack of tutoring programs, counseling services, college access programs, after school programs, healthcare, proper nutrition, and other support services that would assist students who are falling behind. And if a student makes it through that gauntlet of perils, high-stakes end-of-course exams are waiting to deter them from graduating.

The school-to-prison-pipeline is a major contributor to the overall epidemic of police violence and mass incarceration that functions as one of sharpest edges of structural racism in the United States.

The rise of the #BLM movement

A new rebellion against structural racism is underway in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement, galvanized by extrajudicial executions of Black people by the police and white vigilantes. The murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the ensuing national protests that followed showed the potential for a mass social movement — and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was launched by three Black women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Their demand that all Black lives have value was simple, yet visionary — especially in its call to highlight the most marginalized Black lives, including LGBTQ folks, women, and Black immigrant lives.

In August of 2014, Michael Brown was killed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, his body left in the streets for hours as a reminder to the Black residents in the neighborhood that their lives are meaningless to the American Empire. But this time the potential for a national uprising was actualized as thousands of mostly Black residents of Ferguson took to the streets and inspired rallies across the country and around the world. Only weeks after the non-indictment decision of Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, a NY grand jury failed to indict the officer who strangled Eric Garner to death on camera, and the movement went into high gear. Student walkouts, mass marches, and urban rebellions swept the country as people’s anger boiled over at the racist criminal (in)justice system.

In 2015, the African American Policy Forum coined the hashtag #SayHerName in an effort to raise awareness about state violence against women — including Black queer women and Black transgender women — and the campaign took off in the aftermath of the death of Sandra Bland who died in jail while in police custody after being detained by an officer for a traffic stop.

Despite the ongoing protests, police killings of Black people have continued unabated, including widely known cases of Freddy Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother who was killed in front of three of her four children. In addition to these adults, police have also killed many Black children in past few years including 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, 13-year-old Tyre King, and 15-year-old Darius Smith.

The continuing police murders of Black people, and the refusal of the court system to punish police for these crimes, has continued to fuel an explosion of protests — from the streets to the schools. Protest even erupted on NFL football fields in 2016 when then San Francisco 49er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sat and then took a knee, during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Following Kaepernick’s lead, student athletes from middle school through college took a knee against racism.

In Seattle, on October 19th 2016, the movement for Black lives burst into the struggle for equitable education when some 3,000 educators came to school wearing shirts that said, “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together,” with many of them teaching lessons about the long history of the struggle against racism. This movement spread across the country with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, NY, holding similar actions. Then during the first school week of February, 2018, educators from around the country organized the first national, “Black Lives Matter at School” week of action. Educators taught lessons throughout the week that corresponded to the thirteen principals of the Black Lives Matter Global Network organization and raised three demands:

1) End Zero Tolerance Discipline and implement Restorative Justice.

2) Hire More Black Teachers

3) Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12.

Teaching for Black Lives grows directly out of the movement for Black lives. We recognize that anti-Black racism constructs Black people, and Blackness generally, as not counting as human life. The chapters here in Teaching for Black Lives push back directly against this construction by not only providing educators with critical perspectives on the role of schools in perpetuating anti-Blackness, but also by offering educators concrete examples of what it looks like to humanize Black people in curriculum, teaching, and policy. Throughout the book, we demonstrate how teachers can connect the curriculum to young people’s lives and root their concerns and daily experiences in what is taught and how classrooms are set up. We also highlight the hope and beauty of student activism and collective action.

The first section of Teaching for Black Lives, “Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools,” frames how police violence and the movement for Black lives can explicitly be brought to schools and classrooms by educators through organizing mass action and through curriculum. The pairing of these is purposeful: Not only is it critical that we teach about the systemic violence against Black people and the travesty of Black deaths, it is also important for students and teachers to understand their roles in organizing in support of Black life and Black communities, and against anti-Black racism.

In Section II, “Enslavement, Civil Rights, and Black Liberation,” Teaching for Black Lives takes a historical turn. Here the chapters focus on how Black history is taught in the classroom. We recognize for instance, that the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement are all regularly taught in schools, but, as we alluded to at the beginning of this introduction, we also know that these subjects are too often taught in ways that further dehumanize Black people and perpetuate anti-Black racism. Thus the chapters we include in this section reframe the teaching of these histories in ways that challenge white supremacy and reject many of the popular, yet racist, myths that all too often paint Black people as non-actors in their own liberation. To that end, through textbook critique, role plays, and other classroom-based activities, several chapters in this section focus on how racism and white supremacy have operated historically, and highlight how Black people organized in the interest of their own freedom.

However, we know that anti-Blackness isn’t just historical: It is spatial too. Through gentrification and the violence of displacement, anti-Blackness terraforms Black communities into white ones, and working-class communities into spaces for wealthy elites. Anti-Black racism also starves Black communities of resources, either turning them into neoliberal marketplaces for profit – as in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, or simply allowing them to remain toxic for Black residents. Teaching for Black Lives takes this up in Section III, “Gentrification, Displacement, and Anti-Blackness.” In particular, the chapters in this section highlight how these issues can and should be taught through a critical lens of racial and economic justice.

Displacement is not just a socio-economic process. It is real and concrete because it happens to Black bodies. Specifically, this happens in part through our schools’ roles in the mass incarceration of Black people. In Section IV, “Discipline, the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and Mass Incarceration,” the chapter authors explore the ways that school discipline policy and practice contribute directly to the disproportionate punishment and incarceration of Black students. This section examines what it means to teach students whose family members are incarcerated, as well as how to teach about the system of mass incarceration impacting Black communities. Section IV concludes with chapters that highlight the ways that schools can challenge mass incarceration, including some possibilities for restorative and transformative justice.

Finally, Section V, “Teaching Blackness, Loving Blackness, and Exploring Identity”, recognizes that Teaching for Black Lives encompasses more than just teaching critique and social action. It is also about teaching Black identity and the beauty of Blackness both as self-care for Black students and as a way to directly confront anti-Blackness. Here, we pivot towards looking at ways we can and should affirm Black identity in our classrooms and with our children, as we explore the varied and complex relationships between teaching, learning, and being Black. This includes respecting and affirming the language that bathes our existence, and explores the intersectionality with other identities. Here the authors celebrate Blackness and all of its hues while explicating the tensions between being seen and unseen all at once.

We do not expect Teaching for Black Lives to end police violence against Black communities, stop anti-Black racism in schools, or end the school-to-prison pipeline. We do, however, see this collection as playing an important role in highlighting the ways educators can and should make their classrooms and schools sites of resistance to white supremacy and anti-Blackness, as well as sites for knowing the hope and beauty in Blackness. The ferocity of racism in the United States against black minds and black bodies demands that teachers fight back. We must organize against anti-blackness amongst our colleagues and in our communities; we must march against police brutality in the streets; and we must teach for Black lives in our classrooms. We call on others to join us in this fight.”

This is the number one book to read before any new educators enter classrooms and any new school leaders and decision-makers begin to implement any new initiatives. Before anyone endeavors to place additional demands on children of color, design any more tests and are bold enough to say they are supporters of social, racial, restorative or educational justice, read, re-read and reflect. Then, run, don’t walk, to your nearest bookstore or favorite website and grab a copy of this masterpiece. It is the first step in demonstrating that black lives really do matter-to you. When you know better- you do better! Be better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

outlines and details the reality of people of color, specifically speaking to youth’s reactions to education as it characterizes black history in our schools. It examines the false narratives being told to them, even in the 21st Century. It informs us that we haven’t yet gotten over the fear and self-loathing of the nation’s past. How does one deal with a past, better left forgotten, when it is in your face everyday? 

Fifteen-year-old Black student Coby Burren was in geography class at Pearland High School near Houston in the fall of 2015. As he read the assigned page of his textbook, he noticed something that deeply disturbed him: A map of the United States with a caption that said the Atlantic slave trade brought “millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” Coby took a picture of his textbook and texted it to his mother, adding, “We was real hard workers wasn’t we,” along with a sarcastic emoji. Not only had the McGraw-Hill textbook replaced the word “slave” with “workers,” they also placed the chapter on the enslavement of Africans in the chapter of the book titled “patterns of immigration”—as if Africans came to the U.S. looking for a better life.

In the winter of 2017, a mother in Connecticut wrote about how she was troubled by a worksheet on slavery that her daughter had completed for school. The question asked, “How were the slaves treated in Connecticut?” Her daughter had initially written, “The slaves were treated badly and cruelly,” but crossed that out and replaced it with the answer that was written in the textbook, which stated slaves were, “often cared for and [the slave owners] protected them like members of the family.”

From the north to the south, corporate curriculum lies to our students, conceals pain and injustice, masks racism, and demeans our Black students. But it’s not only the curriculum that is traumatizing students.

In October of 2015, a Black girl in South Carolina was ripped out of her desk and thrown across the room by a police officer in the school for allegedly refusing to put away her cell phone. The video captured by a classmate of the incident went viral. The officer who brutalized the girl was not charged with a crime and instead both the girl videotaping and the girl thrown across the room were arrested and charged with “disturbing schools.” In May of 2017, surveillance video revealed a police officer at Woodland Hills High School in Churchill, Pennsylvania, choked and body slammed a Black boy in the office.

Recent data reveals that school security officers outnumber counselors in three out of five — and four out of the top ten — of the biggest school districts in the country, including New York City, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County, and Houston.

These examples reveal some of the policies that result in pushing kids out of school, making it difficult to graduate, then difficult to get a job, and finally more likely that they will end up in jail. This school-to-prison-pipeline begins with a curriculum that conceals the struggles and contributions of Black people and other people of color. It is a curriculum that fails to respect young Black people as intellectuals, and ignores their cultures, communities, and concerns. In the majority of textbooks, African Americans struggles and contributions are minimalized, portrayed as blatant stereotypes, or confined to a few roles that are acceptable to mainstream white society. This absence (or destructive presence) begins in elementary and continues throughout a Black student’s schooling.

Even when teachers include African American history, they often fail to consider the methods used to teach about Black lives to Black and non-Black children. Command and control lecture and rote memorization are not effective means of teaching for Black lives. Indeed, teaching for Black lives means just the opposite: engaging students in critical self-reflection, grounding our curriculum and teaching in their lives and communities, and orienting them towards community activism and social transformation.

Teaching for Black lives means that we can’t relegate Black history to certain historical time periods or events and we must include Black lives in all aspects of curriculum including science, math, literature, and the arts. Teaching for Black lives also means considering the loneliness of learning about one’s history when you might be one of a few students in class (or few teachers in a school) that this history represents.

When Black history and Black contributions are denied in the curriculum and by those who teach it, Black people are themselves denied. Consequently, students who become disinterested in a course or vocal about its shortcomings and historical erasure are often labeled defiant and pushed out of the classroom. These students may then get swept up by police officers stationed in school and be hit with criminal charges for behavior that was once handled by school administration. If the offending student is sent to administration, they are often required to implement zero tolerance discipline policies prescribed by the school district that mandate suspension or expulsion for various infractions. When a decision to suspend a student is left up to an administrator’s discretion, Black students are far more likely to be punished than their white peers. When students miss school, they fall behind in their classes and are more likely not to pass. The pipeline continues with the lack of tutoring programs, counseling services, college access programs, after school programs, healthcare, proper nutrition, and other support services that would assist students who are falling behind. And if a student makes it through that gauntlet of perils, high-stakes end-of-course exams are waiting to deter them from graduating.

The school-to-prison-pipeline is a major contributor to the overall epidemic of police violence and mass incarceration that functions as one of sharpest edges of structural racism in the United States.

The rise of the #BLM movement

A new rebellion against structural racism is underway in the form of the Black Lives Matter movement, galvanized by extrajudicial executions of Black people by the police and white vigilantes. The murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the ensuing national protests that followed showed the potential for a mass social movement — and the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter was launched by three Black women, Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi. Their demand that all Black lives have value was simple, yet visionary — especially in its call to highlight the most marginalized Black lives, including LGBTQ folks, women, and Black immigrant lives.

In August of 2014, Michael Brown was killed in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri, his body left in the streets for hours as a reminder to the Black residents in the neighborhood that their lives are meaningless to the American Empire. But this time the potential for a national uprising was actualized as thousands of mostly Black residents of Ferguson took to the streets and inspired rallies across the country and around the world. Only weeks after the non-indictment decision of Michael Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, a NY grand jury failed to indict the officer who strangled Eric Garner to death on camera, and the movement went into high gear. Student walkouts, mass marches, and urban rebellions swept the country as people’s anger boiled over at the racist criminal (in)justice system.

In 2015, the African American Policy Forum coined the hashtag #SayHerName in an effort to raise awareness about state violence against women — including Black queer women and Black transgender women — and the campaign took off in the aftermath of the death of Sandra Bland who died in jail while in police custody after being detained by an officer for a traffic stop.

Despite the ongoing protests, police killings of Black people have continued unabated, including widely known cases of Freddy Gray, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Charleena Lyles, a pregnant mother who was killed in front of three of her four children. In addition to these adults, police have also killed many Black children in past few years including 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones, 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, 13-year-old Tyre King, and 15-year-old Darius Smith.

The continuing police murders of Black people, and the refusal of the court system to punish police for these crimes, has continued to fuel an explosion of protests — from the streets to the schools. Protest even erupted on NFL football fields in 2016 when then San Francisco 49er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, sat and then took a knee, during the national anthem in protest of police brutality. Following Kaepernick’s lead, student athletes from middle school through college took a knee against racism.

In Seattle, on October 19th 2016, the movement for Black lives burst into the struggle for equitable education when some 3,000 educators came to school wearing shirts that said, “Black Lives Matter, We Stand Together,” with many of them teaching lessons about the long history of the struggle against racism. This movement spread across the country with educators in Philadelphia and Rochester, NY, holding similar actions. Then during the first school week of February, 2018, educators from around the country organized the first national, “Black Lives Matter at School” week of action. Educators taught lessons throughout the week that corresponded to the thirteen principals of the Black Lives Matter Global Network organization and raised three demands:

1) End Zero Tolerance Discipline and implement Restorative Justice.

2) Hire More Black Teachers

3) Black History/Ethnic Studies Mandated K-12.

Teaching for Black Lives grows directly out of the movement for Black lives. We recognize that anti-Black racism constructs Black people, and Blackness generally, as not counting as human life. The chapters here in Teaching for Black Lives push back directly against this construction by not only providing educators with critical perspectives on the role of schools in perpetuating anti-Blackness, but also by offering educators concrete examples of what it looks like to humanize Black people in curriculum, teaching, and policy. Throughout the book, we demonstrate how teachers can connect the curriculum to young people’s lives and root their concerns and daily experiences in what is taught and how classrooms are set up. We also highlight the hope and beauty of student activism and collective action.

The first section of Teaching for Black Lives, “Making Black Lives Matter in Our Schools,” frames how police violence and the movement for Black lives can explicitly be brought to schools and classrooms by educators through organizing mass action and through curriculum. The pairing of these is purposeful: Not only is it critical that we teach about the systemic violence against Black people and the travesty of Black deaths, it is also important for students and teachers to understand their roles in organizing in support of Black life and Black communities, and against anti-Black racism.

In Section II, “Enslavement, Civil Rights, and Black Liberation,” Teaching for Black Lives takes a historical turn. Here the chapters focus on how Black history is taught in the classroom. We recognize for instance, that the enslavement of Africans and their descendants, the Civil War, and the Civil Rights movement are all regularly taught in schools, but, as we alluded to at the beginning of this introduction, we also know that these subjects are too often taught in ways that further dehumanize Black people and perpetuate anti-Black racism. Thus the chapters we include in this section reframe the teaching of these histories in ways that challenge white supremacy and reject many of the popular, yet racist, myths that all too often paint Black people as non-actors in their own liberation. To that end, through textbook critique, role plays, and other classroom-based activities, several chapters in this section focus on how racism and white supremacy have operated historically, and highlight how Black people organized in the interest of their own freedom.

However, we know that anti-Blackness isn’t just historical: It is spatial too. Through gentrification and the violence of displacement, anti-Blackness terraforms Black communities into white ones, and working-class communities into spaces for wealthy elites. Anti-Black racism also starves Black communities of resources, either turning them into neoliberal marketplaces for profit – as in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, or simply allowing them to remain toxic for Black residents. Teaching for Black Lives takes this up in Section III, “Gentrification, Displacement, and Anti-Blackness.” In particular, the chapters in this section highlight how these issues can and should be taught through a critical lens of racial and economic justice.

Displacement is not just a socio-economic process. It is real and concrete because it happens to Black bodies. Specifically, this happens in part through our schools’ roles in the mass incarceration of Black people. In Section IV, “Discipline, the School-to-Prison Pipeline, and Mass Incarceration,” the chapter authors explore the ways that school discipline policy and practice contribute directly to the disproportionate punishment and incarceration of Black students. This section examines what it means to teach students whose family members are incarcerated, as well as how to teach about the system of mass incarceration impacting Black communities. Section IV concludes with chapters that highlight the ways that schools can challenge mass incarceration, including some possibilities for restorative and transformative justice.

Finally, Section V, “Teaching Blackness, Loving Blackness, and Exploring Identity”, recognizes that Teaching for Black Lives encompasses more than just teaching critique and social action. It is also about teaching Black identity and the beauty of Blackness both as self-care for Black students and as a way to directly confront anti-Blackness. Here, we pivot towards looking at ways we can and should affirm Black identity in our classrooms and with our children, as we explore the varied and complex relationships between teaching, learning, and being Black. This includes respecting and affirming the language that bathes our existence, and explores the intersectionality with other identities. Here the authors celebrate Blackness and all of its hues while explicating the tensions between being seen and unseen all at once.

We do not expect Teaching for Black Lives to end police violence against Black communities, stop anti-Black racism in schools, or end the school-to-prison pipeline. We do, however, see this collection as playing an important role in highlighting the ways educators can and should make their classrooms and schools sites of resistance to white supremacy and anti-Blackness, as well as sites for knowing the hope and beauty in Blackness. The ferocity of racism in the United States against black minds and black bodies demands that teachers fight back. We must organize against anti-blackness amongst our colleagues and in our communities; we must march against police brutality in the streets; and we must teach for Black lives in our classrooms. We call on others to join us in this fight.

Learner Engagement, Equity and the History Curriculum

Children who attend diverse public schools learn more, exhibit less racial prejudice, and report higher overall self-confidence. But schools must also ensure diversity exists in enrollment, classrooms, and  implementing curricula which reflects the history and culture of students of all backgrounds. Advocates for equitable education reform must be invested in diversifying not only classrooms, but everyday instruction as well.

Seeking to prepare students for college and career upon high school graduation. As children prepare for college and other post-secondary learning it is in our public schools where the learning process needs to include not only a national historical perspective, a global historical perspective, but individual cultural perspectives are also critical.

Each year, students, contemplating college, take aptitude tests and entrance exams. The purpose of these tests is to assess cumulative learning in pk-12, and covers multiple subject and content areas. Educators have been accused of teaching to the test, since testing constitutes high stakes for school ranking, reputation and funding.

The stakes are high for the students as they try to get into good colleges or schools of their choice. Areas such as math and science are, on the surface, relatively non-culturally dependent. This doesn’t however, dismiss the truths that many contributors to those fields of study are in fact, diversely represented. Schools fail to make those distinctions.

Educators will tend to focus on maintaining the system as originally designed. They do not recognize that the system is fundamentally out of sync with the conditions of today’s world. New knowledge about teaching, learning, and organizational structures has not been incorporated into the present structure.

In the age of multiculturalism and diversity, it is important that educators    approach instruction with an intentional recognition of our diversity. With regard to these high stakes tests, material covered in world history, for example includes minimum exploration of diverse cultures around the world.

When there is such content being taught, much of the national and global history is dismissive of any emphasis on African or Asian history. This is unfortunate, especially because the birth of ‘man’ is on the continent of Africa. The birth of civilization, writing, astronomy, earth science, mathematics, the concept of 365 1/4 days in a calendar year, agriculture, medicine[alcohol, etc…] all emerged out of African nations over 9,000 years ago.

The way children learn of these concepts and the origination are from eurocentric viewpoint. The evidence informs us, beyond any doubt that all of these concepts are African in origination. Europeans traveled to Africa, some 7,000 years ago, discovered their technological advances, returned to their nations and credited themselves with such innovations[100% truth-fact check it}.

World history has been rolled back in terms of those college admissions exams, and schools have reduced required knowledge in many important areas. Should colleges and universities require knowledge of Africa and African-American history, for U.S. students, there would be a necessity that it be taught more broadly.

Even U.S. History and Social Studies lacks sufficient information on African-Americans, their history and contributions. Textbooks present to students footnotes of history related to black and brown people. Textbooks also present many un-truths related to history, as it pertains to both black and whites. However, history is taught to millions of children each year as though it were fact and evidence-based, but most history is just that-his-story.

There are millions of young learners in our nation’s public school systems, who are not white, not European in origin. Yet, the curricula has not expanded its focus to reflect cultural diversity of those students in terms of their histories. Equity in education demands that in all public learning spaces, there be instruction in full intentional recognition of our diversity.

Educators focus on maintaining the system as originally designed. They do not recognize that the system is fundamentally out of sync with the conditions of today’s world. New knowledge about teaching, learning, and organizational structures has not been incorporated into the present structure.

Last year, in 2019, The College Board revealed a plan to narrow its World History Advanced Placement[AP] Exam. Subject matter now eliminates over 9,000 years of history, beginning with around 1450 in focus. This revision is a step backwards in school curriculum. It moves towards a more Eurocentric view of history in our education system. This is the same board that administers tests such as the AP and SAT[Scholastic Aptitude Test].

Their argument for this revision is that covering what we call Period 3 in history was too broad and takes more than one academic school year to study that much information. Therefore they are narrowing down world history to around 1450. Unfortunately for many students, it would be more interesting to learn the 3rd period in history. This was a time when Europeans were in the Dark Ages and the rest of the world, Africa in particular, was innovating.

The College Board’s rationale assumed that the periods where Europeans weren’t pillaging the world, would be covered in college courses. This view severely limits underprivileged students, largely black and brown in underfunded schools, ability to take an AP class in World History that covers those Pre-Colonialism ages. Besides, these courses cost schools money, average $6,500 per course. Underfunded schools would be left out, and thus the students suffer.

Starting the story in the year 1450, robs children of color their rich heritages. This determined start for history is not about their contributions, their lives and former history-rich kingdoms.  It is heavily grounded in Colonialization. That story covers what Europeans do to black people.

There is the issue of state standards. First of all, the College Board offers courses in AP World History, US. History and European History. But it offers no course on non-white world history. Eurocentric historical understandings only. Most states don’t test for specific historical understanding, but incorporate history in English Language Arts[ELA]. When history is taught, it is from a skewed perspective.

The importance of diverse history curricula is far from abstract. To teach history accurately, one must teach about the variety of ethnicities and cultures which make up our world. Eurocentrism is harmful first and foremost because it false. However, diversity in curricula is about more than just teaching a full view of history; it is proven to empower students of color.

Stanford University researchers looked at data from a pilot program in San Francisco where students considered at high risk for dropping out were enrolled in one of the state’s ethnic studies programs. The results were striking: attendance rose by 21 percentage points, while grade-point averages rose by 1.4 points. Students enrolled in in ethnic-studies courses earned 23 more credits toward graduation, on average, than those who did not. The largest improvements in test scores were found among boys and Hispanic students in math and science.

There is overwhelming evidence for the positive social and emotional effects of diverse curricula. Reading texts written by members of the ethnic groups that are underrepresented in school curricula improves the self esteem of students of that ethnic group, and caused all students to have a greater appreciation for cultural difference, according to recent research.

Despite the proven benefits of a diverse history education, many students still receive Eurocentric instruction. Studies have shown that most students lack a basic understanding of such things as slaveryrudimentary world geography, or the history of indigenous peoples.

In a 2015 study, the National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) found that the majority of teachers considered Black history to be influential in understanding the complexity of U.S. history. Many teachers even claimed that that they, in teaching history, try to “infuse elements of Black history in every historical era, sometimes going beyond state and local standards.” However, when the study looked at how time was actually being used in U.S history classrooms, it revealed a slightly different reality: on average, only one to two lessons, or 8 to 9 percent of total class time, are devoted to Black history.

Equity is tied to engagement and both are tied to the curriculum. Integrating classrooms is a step in the right direction, but unless we similarly integrate the curriculum, there will remain status quo-black students never learning their real and true history and white children never gaining new perspectives from a broadened, more inclusive curriculum.

How do we help America face the fears and potential historical ‘guilt’ about past transgressions and reflect on their true history  around the world?  In truth, there is reconciliation, and real power and influence.  But, if not now. when?

Every child, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, deserves to discover their roots and learn the truths about who their ancestors were and who they are. Out of these discoveries, children can naturally determine, pursue and become who they wish to be.

Engagement, equity and the curriculum.

Psychology Classes Aren’t Strictly For College

 At age seventeen, I entered college already having decided on my major– psychology. How did that come to be? It certainly didn’t come from any basic familiarity with the subject in high school. It had been decided at home, as a result of  discussions about my future goals with my grandfather, with whom I had many important conversations.

woman reading newspaper

Today, psychology explicitly belongs in K-12 education settings. It belongs both as a stand alone course and integrated into other content areas. When we think of psychology, we think of mental health disorders. Psychology is much more than that. It can be an introduction into human behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and relationships. Psychology can help determine the ‘why’ of human behavior.

As a behavioral science, psychology is an important foray into SEL[Social Emotional Literacy] development, having a sense of self, and understanding others. It can help children learn how to manage and express emotions in pro-social manners, and can help acquire compassion and empathy. Psychology is at the heart of 21st Century education.

It’s not enough to tell children to be nice to others. They need to learn what nice looks and feels like. How they stand up for themselves and be nice at the same time.  Psychology provides that. Children learn how assertive differs from aggression, and when one may be appropriate. Children can understand their own developmental process. Psychology classes can be that safe space that invites conversation, and practice of adaptive behaviors through role play-experiential learning. It can potentially be the most engaging class and the best part of a student’s day. Do not be confused. Lots of learning takes place in class.

In K-12 education, high school students are exposed to psychology classes, as an elective course, not a requirement for graduation. K-8 education rarely offers psychology as an area of instruction. We want educators to integrate social-emotional skill building into lessons.  What we are actually asking of teachers is to deliver instruction in human psychology. We just aren’t labeling it as such.

Society and the and the new wave of mass violence and  interpersonal aggression, happening in all pockets of the country and abroad, provides tangible evidence that psychology should be a core content area in the general curriculum in school settings. As it stands today, high school  psychology, is the 3rd most often elected course among students. It attracts students at such numbers that perhaps education frameworks should include psychology instruction as an across majors requisite for college graduation.  

The APA’s[American Psychological Association] Center for Psychology in Schools and Education estimates there are 8,000-10,000 high school psychology teachers in the United States; and according to the National Center for Education Statistics, each year nearly 30 percent of graduating students—2 to 3 million—have earned credits in a psychology course.

children wearing white academic gown during graduation ceremony at daytime

Approximately 8,400 schools offer AP[Advanced Placement] psychology classes; and in 2016, nearly 300,000 students took the AP psychology exam, up from only 3,900 in 1992. The Medical College Admissions Test(MCAT) now includes an SBS[Social and Behavioral Science] requirement, which may attract more students to psychology before college.

APA provides curriculum supports to high school teachers in various ways. They include:

  • An annual professional development workshop for 25-30 teachers.
  • Grants to support regional teaching networks, and
  • National teaching standards, already adopted by seven states.

APA also provides materials for secondary-level teachers, including online lesson plans such as “Biological Basis for Behavior”, and an online laboratory where students can experience concepts and methods directly.

There are some challenges for K-12 education to examine closely. These include:

  1. Identifying who is to teach psychology in high school, for it bridges science and social studies,
  2. Exposing more students to psychology in high school because it is most often an elective course,
  3. Addressing what APA believes are inaccurate public perceptions of psychology, and
  4. Improving teacher preparation. This is a daunting task, since many psychology teachers have never taken a psychology course, not                 even as undergraduates.

There is a need to convey psychology as a science in order to promote its inclusion into standard curriculum, and some developmentally appropriate concepts can be introduced in K-8 education. Making psychology a mandatory course offering in secondary education should be examined. We can surely teach skills that promote well-being through psychology. Promoting national teaching standards in psychology can help ensure that all students receive basic concept knowledge prior to high school graduation.

We need to examine the assessment of content and skills learned in psychology classes. Also examine the potential to credential teachers in this subject area to ensure minimum standards of teaching quality are met. Fostering professional development of psychology teachers, promote diversity and promote online learning along with other proven effective uses of technology.

In an age where teen suicide rates are high, school shootings are too frequent, teen drug use, trauma, bullying including cyber-bullying, gang involvement, depression, and racial intolerance seems ever-present, psychology classes could be a buffer from these occurrences. At the very least, it may be less difficult to identify potential perpetrators or victims who may be at greater risk.

There are not enough guidance counselors in any one school, and presenting instruction in a classroom setting may sometimes be preventive and proactive without need for further intervention. Perhaps those students whom we deem as having learning disabilities or behavior challenges and disorders, may be better identified in a psychology class. It won’t be through group counseling, but rather group discussion that deeper insights into who students are[as unique individuals and their cultural diversity]. Their strengths and potential may be recognized–all through psychology classes at school. In fact, implicit bias may become more conscious and sufficiently managed or eliminated.

Psychology may indeed be a bridge that debunks immaculate perceptions, sparks intrinsic motivation, cultural sensitivity, equity and income and gender equality and tears down walls that divide us. We may no longer be crippled by or burdened with -isms we have constructed. As adults, we adapt and adjust to societal woes. Children may not adhere to them at all or won’t feel the need to create barriers, because they will know who they really are and learn that they are not much different from anyone else. Psychology-it got us here-now let it take our children and generations to come, into self-actualization. Consider schools as proactive environments. JUST AN IDEA.

Do You Know How to Teach Black History?


Teaching outside of that box is to reach for content and contexts not found in the traditional texts. This also falls outside of the scope of the curriculum. However, to do so adds much more relevance to the learners, fuels their curiosity and affirms their culture-who they are.

In the traditional textbooks, diversity is MLK and Harriet Tubman, Pocahontas, and Crispus Attucks. George Washington Carver and Frederick Douglass comprise the extent to which the curriculum allows to demonstrate ‘respect’ and acknowledgement of diversity. Unfortunately, these figures, albeit significant to our history, do not qualify as authentic respect for  all. In the standard curriculum, black history always begins with slavery. This framework bears much of the ‘blame’ for the continued ignorance of the American population as a collective. To most learners, they believe that this population was born to be slaves, subservient and unimportant-No full context!

 “Our history did not begin in chains. … Young black school children don’t learn that our people mapped, calculated and erected …”
                                                                       Malcolm X

Teachers have always taught African American history as a supplement or mere footnotes to history.  In so doing, the ‘other’ perspective persists relative to groups who have been strategically marginalized. We need to see all children, particularly children of color, learning more about themselves in the everyday classroom– not only a few days allotted per school year. When instruction focuses on ‘minority’ groups’ ‘ achievement and social significance, the same few figures are introduced and explored.

In spite of  enslavement, Jim Crow and segregation, there have been countless figures with whom children can  and need to identify. Certainly, children would be delighted to discover that the widely popular toy, the ‘Super Soaker’, was designed  and patented by a black man. Children will be fascinated to know that the ‘traffic light’ was invented by a black man. There are countless other neat tidbits of enlightenment to explore. Perform a little more research in designing lesson plans.

With apparently perplexed educators, an overwhelming number of culturally-mismatched educators, our classroom instructors, have yet to systematically integrate ‘mirrors’ into their lesson planning. The results, intentional or not, demonstrate to students their own irrelevance. What is there to motivate their engagement in YOUR environment?

Active engagement and intrinsic motivation are stifled when children rarely to never see themselves in instruction.

As a parent, thinking about my child’s comprehensive growth and development,and academic performance, I would feel as though my child’s teachers are discriminating against my child. Should I choose to voice this opinion to schools directly, I would not be wrong. The absence of regular culturally-relevant instruction is a manifestation of bias-implicit or explicit.

The framework of public education guarantees and promises the intentional inclusion of all children into its instructional design. We are falling short. Children, especially those who live in ‘non-traditional family households, NEED to feel they are not alone, anomalies or that they exist as ‘extras’ in the classroom. They want to feel acknowledged, recognized and a sense of belonging. The curriculum does not support this belonging.

Opponents of curriculum change will tell us that there are students of color who do succeed and excel in school. They will use this as evidence of the efficacy of the curriculum as is. The counter-argument is that,  one or two children who succeed in spite of the lack of curricular equity are the anomalies-not the norm. We should note the numbers of children who sit in classrooms every day, detached  and do not succeed.

 ‘The vast majority of black and brown children are intellectually inferior‘. ‘Their parents and communities lie at fault for their deficiencies.’

We know this is pure nonsense.

Educators:

  • Don’t blame parents for ‘poor’ student performance or the perceived absence of an expected core knowledge base.
  • Seek to develop authentic relationships with students and their families AND become a part of the community you serve, at least between 7:30am-3pm.
  • Reflect and acknowledge their core strengths. Build relationships and instructional strategies from that position. This mindset helps form partnerships. Respect and authentic appreciation don’t exist, or is superficial, if not supported by the curriculum.
  • With intentional determination to affirm ALL students,  offer and infuse historical facts into your instructional repertoire, in the students’ best interest. And please don’t limit them to just one month in the academic school year. They live and exist as people 365 days each year. Sometimes it’s 366. Ensure your instruction is responsive and enlightening for all throughout the year.

Are you already being a part of positive change and working towards the solutions you wish to see? Everyone has a role and responsibility to their community, society and themselves. We who speak about color-blindness are no longer accepted as solution-focused without doing the work necessary.

Without the walk, the talk is meaningless. Be culturally sensitive, color aware and race conscious—-at all times, in all you say and do….and teach!

We must show this in our everyday lives and in our work. As educators who  grade students’ tests, we must grade and critique our textbooks and instructional materials, too. Begin asking questions and telling stories in your classrooms to challenge those immaculate perceptions which reinforce negative assumptions and stereotypes.

 “Our history did not begin in chains. … Young black school children don’t learn that our people mapped, calculated and erected …”
Malcolm X

Some may say that we already have Black History Month in public schools, and that’s good enough. False. That is the beginning of equity and quality instruction. Carter G. Woodson, when he sought to impart the cultural and general knowledge that African-Americans were systematically denied, envisioned that this instruction become normalized, and integrated into the standardized curriculum. It is supposed to be used as a springboard.

We ask children to succeed and excel under the framework of being the ‘other’- the exception and somehow outside of the norm. We are informing them that they are running life’s race from behind and handing  to them no everyday champions to motivate their winning spirits.

We’ve normalized whiteness to the point where there is no intention in choosing instructional content or context because it’s already. The task is to address the whole child promote healthy identity formation into instruction and  cultivate an appreciation for self AND others. This requires effort never before taken to teach outside of the texts. It’s far too easy to rely solely upon the texts provided by schools. It takes conscious intent to consider your students’ comprehensive well-being.

Ask yourselves whether you perpetuate societal inequities in the classroom. This encourages failure for some and success for others. Ask yourselves if it is fair to deliver relevance  to white kids and little to none to children of color. Would you allow your child to attend a school where he or she spends 90% of their class time learning about people of color? Wouldn’t your child feel left out in that environment? Alone and unacknowledged, not celebrated and unappreciated. Is that not inequity?

Your child is not understood, because as they are taught, teachers must also learn. Teaching is a reciprocal process today. Teachers teach as much as they learn, and teachers can not teach that which they don’t know.

Educators have a concrete responsibility to affirm every child and ensure that a balanced curriculum exists in schools. A balanced education is true authentic quality education that every child deserves to experience. It is within that framework that academic excellence, positive social relationships, social justice and a united nation is borne.

Teachers, with the keys to a better, brighter more just and equitable future in your hands, it is up to you to reflect on whether you are being the change, the solution or perpetrators of the problems in society. Change is simply a broadened perspective, google search and an intentionally developed lesson away! The difference between success and failure can be access and opportunity! Ensure access and offer opportunity!

When one teacher determines and commits to teach appropriate facts alongside traditional information, sparks necessary conversations in the classroom, all children will achieve and engage. And when other teachers witness that change, they too, will make the same commitment.