There’s a meme going around that people like to send to me because, you know, I’m a teacher. I probably think it’s funny. I’m sure you’ve seen it. It’s the one about history teachers trying to teach about 2020. Click here, if you haven’t seen it.
My first reaction is “so true.” Or “yeah, this year is wild.”
My second reaction is “um, we can’t even get to the 1990s, how the hell are we going to get to 2020.”
I was also struck by Fox News’ Laura Ingraham’s comments about teachers.
She claims the far-left wants to turn students into activists.
My favorite part of what she said was:
“They will learn capitalism is racist, history as conventionally taught is racist, literature — most of that — is racist, patriotic songs are racist, and the Declaration and the Constitution, of course, they are racist. Are you sensing a theme here?”
Sorry to tell ya, Laura, but some things ARE racist. We’re not over here claiming that EVERYTHING is racist. But some things are, and we’re going to discuss them with our students.
This is fear-mongering. Plain and simple. Most educators want to include MORE versions of history. We want to add more voices. More perspectives. More experiences. Making a curriculum anti-racist doesn’t mean we shouldn’t teach the Eurocentric version of history. We are saying we shouldn’t teach ONLY the Eurocentric version of history.
Our mission as teachers should be to tell the whole story to the best of our abilities. American history isn’t all bad, but it sure as hell ain’t all good. You can love your country and still want to improve it for all people.
To read the entire article and her other wild claims, click here. I totally understand if you want to skip it ;-).
All this got me thinking:
How the hell are we going to overhaul the education system? We want to give our students a more well-rounded social studies education. And we want to make our curriculum more anti-racist. On top of everything else we have to teach. We can’t even get to the year 2000 in U.S. History classes.
I know a lot of teachers want to go back to school in the fall and shake up the system, and that’s great. But I fear that people are going to try to take on too much. Then burn out.
So, here are 10 tips to make your curriculum more anti-racist:
#1 Make Modern Connections
I know. This is easier said than done.
But there are a lot of opportunities to make these connections.
We are always saying these tired tropes: “history repeats itself.” “If we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.” blah blah blah.
That’s all well and good, but what are we actually doing to connect history to our students?
Remember. We teach teens. They are self-centered. How can we make history relevant to them? Here are a few examples:
- When teaching about the robber barons v. captains of industry, talk about today’s robber barons and captains of industry. Compare and contrast them.
- When teaching New Immigration, talk about current nativism. Who are we trying to keep out now? Why? This will help add to our discussion of the experiences of many people of color in America.
- When talking about urbanization, why not discuss gentrification? Gentrification disproportionately impacts people of color. Even better, do you teach in an area that is currently experiencing gentrification? Talk about it with your students! Better yet, have them explore the impacts of gentrification on their city or town.
The list goes on and on.
But please, don’t give modern connections as homework. I’ve made this mistake several times. The students either won’t do it or won’t get anything from it.
Take some time out of your other lessons so you have time to teach about current connections in class.
#2 Poll The Kids
Most kids have an opinion. (Duh).
They know what’s going on in the world and they want to talk about it.
You can create a list of topics and have the kids answer a survey. Then add the winning issues to your content throughout the year.
If the kids have no idea what’s going on, have them take some time and read a few headlines and news articles. Then have them vote.
Here are a few ideas:
- Race riots in the 20th century
- Confederate Monuments
- Police brutality
- Experiences of Latinx Americans in the 20th century
- LGBTQ issues
- Civil Rights issues in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s
- Healthcare issues for people of color
- Experiences of Asian Americans (beyond a quick mention of Japanese Internment Camps)
- Women’s issues throughout the 20th century
- The creation of ghettos
#3 Do A Little Each Year
I know this work is daunting. There’s pressure to come into the new school year, guns blazing, ready to fix everything.
Welp, sorry to burst your bubble, but you can’t.
Making your curriculum anti-racist is going to take time.
Plus, we all have lives outside of school, and we deserve to rest.
I recommend updating 1-2 units per subject per year. That way, after a couple of years, your stuff will be on point.
You can’t do a good job overhauling everything every year. This will lead to a quick burn out. For a lot of us, teaching is our lifelong career.
Give yourself time to learn and grow. Then use that new knowledge when you make your lessons.
#4 Revamp The Timeline
It’s vital to think about WHY we teach what we teach.
Yes, we have state standards to follow.
Yes, many of us have state testing.
But, other than that. Why do we teach what we teach?
Is there any reason why you can’t breeze through some things and focus longer on others?
If you teach World War I in World History, how long do you need to spend on it in U.S. History?
Looking at how long you are spending on each topic is a way you can add more narratives.
#5 Give Many Perspectives
You can teach the white narrative and other narratives at the same time.
There are ways you can add different narratives that won’t take all that much time.
A good example is Reagan. (Haha, I know, like we ever get to Reagan). Most high school curricula tell us that Reagan was a fantastic president. A lot of people still think so.
While it’s important to teach the positive stuff Reagan did, you need to dig deeper. There were tons of problems with his presidency.
Have the students look into what they were and why they were problems. This way, you’ll get all sorts of voices: women, black people, rich people, poor people, even LGBTQ people. The list goes on.
If making curriculum anti-racist is about exploring the experiences of different racial groups, this is a cool way to do it.
And you can do this for any era you are teaching about.
#6 Use Alternative Assessments
Remember, assessments don’t always have to be tests and essays. Alternative assessments can engage students in ways that traditional forms can’t.
You want to make history relevant to your students. So, you’ve got to find a way for them to see how history continues to impact us.
One of the best ways to do that is to get the kids talking to each other. To assess students, you can use debates, deliberations, Socratic seminars, pinwheels, etc.
This way, it will be easy to include different narratives and perspectives.
Plus, the kids can do all the prep work. That’s a win-win.
#7 Divide And Conquer
You don’t have to do this work alone. Many of us work together in our departments or in PLCs. Divide up the work. You can co-create lesson plans or split the research.
Plus, some people know more than others.
But remember, not everyone is going to be onboard or agree with you. There are going to be people in your department who are going to want to stick with the status quo. (I bet you’re thinking about who they are right now ;-)).
As long as you’re doing what your department expects of you, I say do you, boo.
#8 Ask Better Questions
We’ve got to start thinking about the questions we are asking kids.
Are they truly higher-order?
Are they forcing the kids to use their critical-thinking skills?
Changing a few of the questions we ask kids can change an entire lesson.
Do you care about basic facts, or are you more focused on the how and the why?
I’m sure you’ve seen the lack of critical thinking that’s rampant on social media. It’s our job as social studies teachers to get people to think. To do that, we need to ask hard, thought-provoking questions.
#9 Give Yourself Grace
You aren’t going to make your curriculum anti-racist overnight. This is going to take time, and it’s not going to be perfect. There will be roadblocks, and you’re going to get tired. That’s ok. Cut yourself some slack.
The learning curve will be steeper for some people than others, but keep going.
Even if you teach one new topic or perspective this year, that’s one more than you did last year. Add more next year.
Give yourself a pat on the back and keep moving forward.
#10 Ignore The Haters
Change is always going to trigger people. Many people feel that their way of life and thinking is being threatened. It could be parents (let’s be real, it’s probably going to be parents).
It could be other colleagues.
Some districts don’t allow you to teach certain things.
Making your curriculum anti-racist isn’t going to be a top priority everywhere. But there has always been push back when it comes to change. There always will be.
You need to figure out how far you can push and what you can teach based on your district. Some of us will be able to completely revamp our curricula, others of us will have to take baby steps.
Take those baby steps.
Eventually, you’ll get where you’re headed.
Some Final Thoughts:
As social studies teachers, we need to think about our job. Do we teach history to have our students regurgitate facts? Or do we teach SOCIAL studies? Do we teach them how to think? Can they analyze the impact the past has on our lives today?
Finally, yes, there are state standards and standardized tests that teachers have to consider. But I argue that excellent teachers can teach to the test and teach kids to think.
Is it hard work? Yes. But that’s our job.
What are you going to do to make your curriculum more anti-racist? Let me know in the comments below!
Click here to read more from the Teach Hungry Movement!