From Teaching Tolerance: Black History Month: Teaching the Complete History
Last year, Teaching Tolerance rolled out a series of articles challenging teachers to go beyond overused and whitewashed historical narratives when observing Black History Month. This year, we’re expanding that call by recommending that teachers widen their exploration of Black lives while also providing historical context so students will make meaningful connections to current issues.
It’s not uncommon for educators to focus on slavery, segregation and other forms of oppression during Black History Month.
But only teaching a Black history steeped in trauma and struggle provides a very narrow view of Blackness and perpetuates the false notion of Black people’s inferiority. This limited teaching of history can actually be violent.
Black History Month: Teaching the Complete History
Stephanie P. Jones, founder of Mapping Racial Trauma in Schools and an assistant professor of education at Grinnell College, examines the severity of such approaches in “Ending Curriculum Violence.”
Jones’ research shows that, too often, “the transatlantic slave trade and its resulting horror within the American slavery system are essentialized as all Black history itself.”
She found that the hard histories of slavery, the civil rights movement and other traumatic events in Black history are frequently mistaught or introduced with little context. Curriculum violence occurs when, as too often happens, educators ask students to act out this history or empathize with enslavers’ and other oppressors’ perspectives.
As a result, students come away with a warped understanding of how racial inequity manifests today. And repeated instances of curriculum violence contribute to a larger traumatic experience at school—experiences that can affect Black students’ mental health.
This doesn’t mean you should skip teaching hard histories for fear of inflicting curriculum violence. Instead, you can take care to teach the truth and avoid harm in the process. Jones’ article offers guidance on how to accomplish that. One way to start right away is to tell the whole story—not just a small part—of Black history. A first step is to commit to decentering racial trauma during Black History Month.
Over the next four weeks, TT will share some of our favorite resources focusing on aspects of Black history and culture that aren’t centered on violence, trauma and struggle. We hope you’ll use them to help your students recognize the many ways in which Black people have contributed to, inspired and created American culture while also leading the way in advocating for civic participation, inclusion and equitable spaces.
Read on for the full article: Black History Month: Teaching the Complete History on Teaching Tolerance.
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