Dear Future Teachers,
As most of you know, the month of February is named as Black History Month. This month, I will be sharing information, literature, and activities you can use in your classroom year-round. I want to stress that Black history, accomplishments, and lives should be integrated into your curriculum every month of the school year, not just in February. That being said, it's important to recognize Black History Month and the history behind it. Today I'm going to share the history and best practices for centering Black History Month in your classroom!
A Quick History
Black History Month stems from Black history celebrations of the early 1900s. Dr. Carter G. Woodson helped to create Negro History Week in 1926, after forming the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (1915), an organization dedicated to popularizing the life and achievements of Black individuals.
Dr. Woodson intentionally chose to celebrate in February, around the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Negro History Week quickly spread throughout the country and in schools. The popularity led to the adoption of annual themes and the production of lesson plans and resources for teachers. Dr. Woodson didn't want celebrations of Black history to only be limited to one week, "He pressed for schools to to use Negro History Week to demonstrate what students learned all year." Black history cannot possibly be condensed into a single week of recognition.
Black history was beginning to expand in certain classrooms during the 1960s. Freedom schools, for example, would incorporate Black history into the curriculum as part of the Civil Rights Movement. The momentum of the Civil Rights Movement led to the week-long recognition of Black history to extend to a month-long celebration on college campuses in the 1960s.
Gerald Ford officially recognized Black History Month in 1976. Each year is still marked by a specific theme. The theme for 2021 is "The Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity." This year's theme focuses on the diverse family relationships in the Black community, exploring the historical and current events that have influenced the value of family.
Below, I highlight a few best practices for teachers to utilize in their classrooms.
Emphasize that Black history IS U.S. history. Don't treat Black history as an "extra-curricular" because it separates Black history from the dominant narrative. Black history is deeply intertwined in U.S. history and should not be treated as a separate entity. Black history should be incorporated into the regular curriculum to highlight its importance and influence on past and current society.
Don't use primarily deficit OR feel-good language. Black history in the United States has a lot of pain and truly terrible crimes against the Black community, but a deficit-only approach to teaching history can reinforce the notion that only bad things have happened within the Black community. There are many accomplishments to be recognized as well. That being said, make sure not to only use feel-good language because it makes it seem that racism and discrimination is in the past. In reality, there are a lot of barriers still present today that need to be dismantled.
Connect history to the present. Not only does this help students feel connected to the history, but it highlights parallels between current events/issues with those of the past. It also helps students understand why certain policies or practices are around today.
Don't focus on famous people alone. As important as it is to teach about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., it is also crucial to teach about activists who have helped lay the groundwork for Civil Rights, as well as cover unacknowledged contributions of Black individuals. There are so many other Black individuals to be recognized and learned about in the classroom, so don't limit lesson plans to just one or two well-known individuals.
Continue to learn and readjust your lesson plans! Every day, there are more and more resources, ideas, and events being contributed to the discourse. History is not static, so it's important to continue to learn and reexamine your lesson plans regularly. One great resource to use is Teaching Tolerance (https://www.tolerance.org/).
Thank you for joining me to learn more about the history of Black History Month and best teaching practices for incorporating Black history into the classroom. I'm currently collecting different resources for teachers for the Black History Month series to share with you all, and I'm excited to dive into this content in more depth! If you have any resources or ideas you would like to share through the duration of this series, please reach out to me via my Contact Form on the Home Page or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember to subscribe so you don't miss out on any upcoming posts!