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Black History Month needs to die. It’s time to stop teaching Black History. I say this not as a person who believes there is just American history so there is no need for Black History. I’m not that person that says well since there’s no White History month/class, there should not be a Black history class/month. Nope. I say this as a social studies teacher who has taught and written curriculum for African American History classes. I say this because when schools with Black children, staffed with predominantly White female teachers, teach about Black people it is only through a historical lens. They get the big three, Martin, Harriet, and Obama- who recently replaced Frederick even though, according to the President, he, as recently as 2017, was doing good things. What they do not get is what is happening now.
Last year, I taught at a charter school that was, by the end of the year, 100% African American-the two white kids bounced by the second semester. As most school do, they had fund raisers and awareness campaigns to draw attention to important, contemporary issues. In the beginning of the year there was a pet food drive. I am quite sure that pets at animal shelters need Scooby snacks. However, there are far more critical issues that we should be teaching African American students to raise awareness to address these issues. Many of my students lived in food deserts and did not know of the concept and simply accepted that they had to take two buses or pay a jitney to go to a grocery store with fresh fruits and vegetables. They never considered the economic and health impact of shopping at corners stores, more often than not, that are not owned by members of their community. They have never read or were taught to read the ingredients list for Hot Cheetos to understand that those with a family history of high blood pressure should stay as far away as possible from Frit-O-Lays’ finest.
One day, I asked my students to raise their hand if they or someone in their family has either high blood pressure or diabetes. In each class, almost every hand went in the air, including mine. According to the American Diabetes Association, African Americans are approximately 13.2% of the 100 million Americans that have diabetes. That’s 13,000,000 people that have been diagnosed. By the age of 55, 3 out of 4 African Americans will have high blood pressure according to a report from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The same percentage of African Americans are overweight or obese. I went to the health teacher and asked her how she was addressing this in her curriculum. Sadly, she was not but she replied she thought it was a good idea. I suggested that she study these conditions and explicitly teach her students about awareness, prevention, diet, and exercise.
In addition to physical health, African American students need to learn about mental health, identity, and emotional development as well. In the usual psychology class, African American students are taught about Jung, Piaget, and Brunner but are never taught about William Cross, Na’im Akbar, Frances Cress-Welsing, or post-traumatic slave syndrome. African American students need to examine the psychological impact of enslavement, segregation, the results of doll test, and other issues related to African American psychological theories. In addition, African American students need to investigate the psychological impact of images of African Americans in popular culture, stereotyping, racial profiling, self-hate, and the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies.
In a traditional economics class, students learn about supply and demand, opportunity cost, and the global economy-all worthy topics. African Americans engage with the economy in additional ways that students need to systematically investigate such as predatory lending, red lining, wealth development, circular economies, or how to start a small business in the community. I believe that all students would benefit from basic financial literacy, but African American students need to strategize how to close the wealth gap between Whites and African Americans. According to a study from the Center for American Progress, African Americans own one-tenth the wealth of White people. We need a systematic analysis of this issue, starting in high school, to give our students the tools to develop and grow their wealth.
The fact that we present the lack of wealth in the African American community within the context of a comparison with White people and not within the context of the needs of our community demonstrates the need for a sociology class taught from the African American perspective. Usually, sociology classes devote one, maybe two chapters on race. African American students need to examine the different structures and dynamics within the African American family that is not from a deficit framework. Sociology class should give African American students an opportunity to analyze the process of racial socialization in American society, discuss womanism as opposed to feminism, and explore issues related to African American manhood.
In order to solve the challenges of the Black community, we need to refocus what and how we teach our children. We need an activist curriculum that explicitly teaches students about the variety of issues in our homes, schools, and communities. We need teachers who are well-versed and curious about those issues and prepared to teach their students how to solve those problems. Knowing about Denmark Vesey, Sojourner Truth, W.E.B. DuBois, Angela Davis, and many others is important. However, we need to teach our children how to solve present-day problems. It will be hard and many will shed tears. I, too, will need a tissue or two. But, nonetheless, with all due respect to Carter G. Woodson, it is time to bid adieu to Black History. Rest in Power.
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