So February is over, and you did an excellent job teaching Black History for 28 days, but you wonder to teach Black History all year?? Don’t get me wrong, I think Black History Month is essential. It brings attention to and honors the contributions of black* people; it helps continue the conversation about issues black Americans face. Furthermore, it’s an excellent reminder that all stories need to be told. That being said, it is not the only time that the contributions and oppression of black people should be discussed. Black History should be taught all year. Fortunately, I have worked in schools that encourage teaching history beyond a Euro-centric worldview. Additionally, I’ve worked with teachers who are eager to engage with and teach about marginalized groups. Groups who rarely get a fair shake and are often regulated to a paragraph or two in a textbook. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case everywhere.
For a lot of us, not teaching this history isn’t because of a lack of desire, it’s often because of a lack of know-how. As a result, I have a list of tips and suggestions to help you get started creating interesting and thoughtful lessons that will engage your students. Let’s dive into my tips for teaching Black History all year:
Tip #1: Incorporate Topics Chronologically
If your teaching experience has been anything like mine, you’ve taught both chronologically and thematically. I prefer to teach chronologically. I find that it helps my students digest the content better and can place in on a mental timeline (or hey, a physical timeline). Teaching history chronologically incorporates black history seamlessly into the course of U.S. History without making it seem like a one-off topic or less critical than other accounts. Remember, black history IS American History, without the contributions of African Americans, the United States would look very different. Need help with chronology? Here’s a quick list of SOME of the topics I discuss. (I know it seems like a lot, I definitely don’t get to everything every year and some issues pertain more to my civics classes. This is just a list of topics I have covered over the years):
- W.E.B. DuBois v. Booker T. Washington
- Ida B. Wells
- Jim Crow
- Great Migration
- Harlem Hell Fighters
- Harlem Renaissance & Jazz
- The Blues
- Jesse Owens & 1936 Olympics
- Double V Campaign & Tuskegee Airmen
- Rock & Roll
- Emmett Till
- Civil Rights Movement including Malcolm X and the Black Panthers
- Vietnam War
- Hip Hop
- War on Drugs
- Race Relations in the 1990s
- Affirmative Action
- Mass incarceration
- Urban Policing
Tip #2: Use Music
Music is one of my passions, and some of the best music was invented right here in the United States, especially in the American South. Much of our music, including jazz, blues, rock & roll, rap, and even country, were created or influenced by African American culture. In my experience, many students listen to rap. Therefore, I love to end the school year with a mini-unit on hip-hop, but before we get to the creation of hip hop, we have to discuss the history of American music. Again, this is something I do chronologically at the end of each decade or unit. Also, music was an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement, so I use it daily during that unit.
Tip #3: Choose the lens of resilience rather than the lens of oppression
Although we can’t talk about the experience of black folks in America without discussing oppression, it is vital to address resilience and resistance as well. I never want my students to come away from our discussion thinking that black people were only victims. It’s important that they understand all the actions, large and small, that African Americans took to better their circumstances.
BONUS TIP: Another thing I always talk about is the concept of white guilt. I have had several white students feel bad about this history and feel like they are in some way responsible (they have told me this). I don’t ever want them to feel put on the spot or blamed for past injustices. Above all, I think it is crucial to have this open conversation with my classes BEFORE we start talking about any sensitive issues.
Tip #4: Discuss Contemporary Issues
This is probably one of the most challenging tasks since we have so much to cover during the school year, but I think it could be the most important and impactful things we can do. So, I try to carve out time to discuss current issues such as gentrification, urban policing, mass incarceration, or anything else the kids are interested in. This can be a challenge since it’s already tricky to teach everything we need to or want to in one school year. However, I think it’s important to try. I believe this not only teaches kids that many issues about race still exist, but it validates many of the problems students may be personally dealing with.
Tip #5: Educate Yourself
As with any topic, we often don’t teach certain subjects well, or we don’t teach them at all because we don’t know enough about the specific subject. I remember showing one of my colleagues I lesson I do on lynching, and she asked me, “how do you know all this?” Honestly, it’s from educating myself. I’ve participated in several PDs, read books, and watched documentaries. I took classes in college, and I participated in a program from the National Endowment of Humanities on a subject relating to African Americans. I know I teach much better when I am confident about the issue I’m teaching about, so I encourage you to learn more, so you can continue teaching Black History all year. Start with a book. Check out a documentary. Simply start.
Well, there you go! I hope you found this helpful!
(note: I use black and African American interchangeably. I do understand the differences between the two. I personally use black when referring to myself, but many people prefer African American, so I use both).
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