Do's and Don'ts of Teaching Black History

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Overview: 

How do you ensure students get the most out of black history and Black History Month? Here are some suggestions.

DO...

Incorporate black history year-round, not just in February. Use the month of February to dig deeper into history and make connections with the past.

Continue Learning. Explore how to provide an in-depth and thorough understanding of black history. Textbooks are notorious for omitting information about the struggles of communities, and what they include is limited, so use the textbook as one of many resources. While exploring multiple resources, allow for opportunities to learn along with your students.

Reinforce to students that "black" history is American history. Make black history relevant to allstudents.

Relate lessons to other parts of your curriculum, so that focusing on a leader, like Fred Shuttlesworth, expands upon rather than diverts from 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. For example, ask students to gather information with a focus on what social disparities exist today and how a particular leader has worked to change society.

Include the political and social context of the community's struggle for social justice. For example, talk about Daisy Bates' political affiliations and her political ideologies. You see her bravery not as just a personal act but as coming out of community determination.


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. Students will get the message that the diversion it is not as important as the "regular" curriculum.

Decontextualize heroes or holidays, separating them from the larger social movement or historical place. Great leaders don't make history all by themselves. For example, if you teach about James Farmer, you must also address the work of the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Freedom Rides.

Focus on superficial cultural traits based on stereotypes. It's ok to celebrate black music, but teachers should also explore the political and social contexts that give rise to musical forms like hip hop.

Talk about black history in solely "feel-good" language, or as a thing of the past. This fails to help students examine how racism manifests itself today.

Limit the presentation to lectures and reading. Be sure to allow students an opportunity for discussion and reflection.

Teach with little or inaccurate information. Review resources to make sure they don't promote a Eurocentric perspective, which may misrepresent historic figures and social movements.

Shy away from controversial, ambiguous, or unresolved issues. Share the real-life experiences about racial realities in developmentally appropriate ways.

Adapted from material by Pat Russo of the Curriculum & Instruction Department at SUNY Oswego.

(Sept. 2007)