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Recently a Catholic school in Massachusetts found itself immersed in controversy over their decision to serve a fried chicken lunch as part of Black History Month. The public attention and discourse surrounding the incident reminded me how far we still need to move as a society in terms of understanding our national history and integrating non-white perspectives. While I’m certain that as a society we will never be in complete agreement over what constitutes the “truth” about American history, I do believe that as teachers and historians we must guide our students towards a more comprehensive view of our nation’s diverse past.
For me, the “fried chicken” controversy speaks to the general problem of “Black History Month” – a mere month to turn the public’s short attention span to the history of a people that is far more complex and important than can be covered by snippets over the course of twenty-eight days. Those of us who teach black history recognize that it is filled with both triumphs and tragedies – too many to squeeze into a singular four-week period. I worry, for example, that years from now students will remember the fried chicken controversy but will have gained no lasting, concrete knowledge or understanding of the lives of black Americans.
Here, however, are two web-based resources that I have recently recommended to students and teachers to help integrate black history into every day, not just the days in February:
Joel Christian Gill is an illustrator and historian whose Instagram posts showcase his efforts to bring black history to a wider audience through comic books and graphic novels. Students love his illustrations and are inspired to research the subjects about which he publishes. Gill’s posts also include his sometimes funny, often painful, observations as a professor of color, which can offer prompts for honest conversations about race in the classroom.
The Zinn Education Project is valuable to teachers but useful to students of history as well. Of particular interest currently is the site’s publication of the National Report on the Teaching of Reconstruction (January 2022), which includes a state-by-state analysis of what K-12 students are learning about the topic. For those teaching US history at the college level the report provides valuable information about what public school students are taught prior to high school graduation based on state guidelines and standards. The information is both enlightening and alarming. While I’m often surprised at my students’ lack of knowledge of Reconstruction, I was shocked to learn that in my state public schools are not required to teach any Reconstruction history. This new insight will certainly inform my planning for future curriculum.
What black history-focused resources that should not be relegated to February have you encountered recently? Please share!
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