If You’re Teaching Black History Month This Way, Please Stop

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose6 Comments


Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson with wife Rachel, Hall of Fame

First, I’d like to acknowledge that, on the chance that you’re 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.  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, and probably a few hallways. There might be a fact-a-day in the announcements, and one in 400 schools might have someone who knows the Black National Anthem. (I know you’re mumbling it 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 in platitudes and the Civil Rights movement.

People often argue that, when we stop celebrating Black History Month, people will start celebrating year-round, and there’s no way I’ll ever argue 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 the lineage with Barbara Bush and Eleanor Roosevelt.

To Kill a Mockingbird in English class is a start, and so is having a Black president. Yet, we have so much pushback, I always wonder if we’ll ever not need a Black History Month. The “civil rights issue of our time” has a severe lack of sincere educators willing to tackle on the issue of diversity without trying to let go of their privilege, too. With the decline of black teachers happening all over the country (Chicago a prime example), it’s time for our White brethren to teach with compassion and understand on the issue of race if they aren’t already.

So jump into Black History Month, and get your feet wet with some of this history. Do your research a bit and drop the dime in a child’s ear, because that might inspire them to aspire. But once February 28th hits, leave those chapters open and bookmark those links.

The kids still need to know that there were, are, and will continue to be people who look just like them that positively impacted the lives of others, role models for the lack thereof in present times.

Jose, because this is to the memory of Hadiya Pendleton …

Comments 6

  1. Jose,

    As a social studies teacher I really don’t like all of the special months and days. I try to teach the various viewpoints of history holistically. I will not be singling out blacks in February, just like we didn’t talk about terrorism on 9/11. We did spend three weeks on 9/11 and terrorism when it fit where we were as a class. We have talked about African Americans in the context of all of the wars and foreign policy that we have discussed. I feel comfortable not focusing on Black history in February because we do integrate it all year in context and we will spends weeks on the Civil Rights Movement starting in March.

    I do appreciate the need to still have these months because too many people and teachers still neglect them. But for me in my classroom, I choose to ignore the “calendar schedule” knowing that I will give the topics due diligence when it fits our scope and sequence.

  2. Having our school on a college campus means that I get to walk my Spanish 2 class over for the college’s Celebrando America Latina series featuring afrolatinos in Peru, Mexico, and Cuba this month, but we’re not going to even start the unit about afrolatino experiences in different countries (which you helped me out with a few years ago wiki style, and for which I owe you part of my National Board certification) until the end of the month, so it’ll go well into March too. So over 1/3 of the course is approaching Woodson’s goal, right?

  3. As a white woman currently getting my teaching credentials, I often find myself wondering how to celebrate all my students. The idea behind Black History Month is a great one, but it has always seemed somewhat inauthentic to me. Thanks for this post, it’s given me a lot to think about.

  4. As a music teacher who has a strong desire to see students have a genuine appreciation for all cultures, I try to teach my students to understand that we are all awesome being who are are, be it, white, black, hispanic, boy, or girl. It’s always touching when I seem them have an appreciation for people that are different than them, while taking pride in who they are. This is who America needs to become. Thanks for this awesome post. I want to encourage Rosie ri just be authentic. If teachers can become authentic in what they teach when it comes to many things, particularly when it come to cultural issues, it will change America.

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  5. Pingback: Tip fo the Week: Black History Month Resources 2013 | History Tech

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