Importance of Teaching Black History
I will never forget the time when a young Caucasian boy in Kindergarten called me the “N” word. Due to living in America, where race impacts lived experiences, I had a keen sense of color at such a young age. Thus, I reported the incident to the school’s only African-American teacher on recess duty. Her response, although a bit striking but most likely coming from lived experiences, to the young man was: “That’s not nice, apologize. Would you like if she called you a cr**ker?” I faintly remember the young boy saying, “No and sorry.” I was so hurt by this ordeal. I hurried home once school was finished to tell my mother.
She was shocked by the teacher’s reply, but made it a teachable moment by explaining to my young, tender ears- race relations. She tried her best to protect and shield me, but also kept it real by telling me her various experiences. In doing this, she explained that adversity made people stronger and basically told me that one incident was one of many more to come. She taught me to be proud of my heritage and made it her job to teach me positive components of Black History. (FYI: Black History recognition started in 1926 by Carter G. Woodson as a week and was later expanded to a month in 1976).
She bought me tons of books. One I will always remember was Martin Luther King Jr.’s book. I read it and was so impressed that Rosa Parks didn’t give up her seat that I asked my Second Grade teacher, Mrs. Maloney, if I can do a report on her for the class. Mrs. Maloney smiled and told me that it wasn’t necessary but I insisted. I got all dressed up and reported on Rosa Parks. I remember being so excited and asking my mom, “She really didn’t give up her seat? Why didn’t she give up her seat?” A bell definitely went off. This was just the beginning of the headstrong me.
My mother taught me the importance of Black History and that America was a multilingual and multicultural society. She also taught me the roles African-Americans played in the foundation of this country. I am very fortunate to have had her do this, for many black students may not have this positive role model or experience at such a young age. My mother grew up extremely poor; her father a native from Puerto Rico left the family when she was young and her mother, a native of North Carolina, grew terminally ill when she was just 14 years old. She dropped out of high school in order to work to support herself for she could no longer endure the teasing for having holes in her shoes and wearing an unkempt jacket-not to mention retiring to bed hungry nightly. Her lived experiences were her reality and my source of what life was like for many impoverished children. I was fortunate that my mother and father provided a better life for my younger sisters and me. My father is also from very humble beginnings. He is an immigrant from Belize in Central America, who shared stories of having no indoor plumbing growing up.
My upbringing prepared me to compete in this world and gave me an understanding of societal relations, which later encouraged me to teach history. As an educator, I see firsthand the lower rates of achievement and higher suspension and special education classification rates of black children, particularly males. Across the nation, people have been concerned with addressing the racial divide and closing the achievement gap where young men of color continually lag behind. Why do black males in general lag behind their white counterparts?
On the surface, some have concluded that black students, particularly black males, appear not to take receiving a high school diploma as seriously as their white or black female peers. The research that I conducted, while completing my doctorate, describes the causes as multifaceted. Using sociological explanations, which include legal socialization (attitudes and thoughts about law affecting law-abiding behaviors) and social reproduction (an individual’s actions being based on the social hierarchy) theories, my research sought to build a theoretical framework to assess the contextual variables, e.g. family involvement, peer pressure, role models, socioeconomic status, race, and racism that attribute to a successful or unsuccessful black male student.
As a social scientist, I assessed the plight of young black men by disaggregating race in order to look at the difference in achievement rates for African-American, black Hispanic, African, and Afro-Caribbean men. Research supports the contention that foreign-born black men do better academically than native-born blacks. Research has also shown that students learn better from people who look like them. This I can attest to firsthand.
On numerous occasions, I encounter students receiving disciplinary referrals in the office who while in my class for the most part are respectful and complete my class work. Upon finding out the behavior issues, I talk to the child, express my shock, and distaste for his or her behavior. More importantly, I explain that he or she needs to be respectful to all teachers or people regardless of like or dislike. This does not mean that all black children are respectful towards me and complete their work, but most, including white children, are respectful and see me as a role model, perhaps due to effectiveness in communicating with them and keeping it real. When behavioral problems appear with black children, the issues are usually on par with their peers.
Many students’ patterns of inappropriate behavior and the findings from the focus groups employed in my research revealed that children respond to being mentored by people who are effective communicators, treat them with respect and look like them. More teachers and faculty of color, increased expectations from faculty, such as teachers and guidance counselors, are what children of color need more.
My research adds to the literature, by surveying, interviewing, listening to the students who are most at risk, and lastly suggesting measures to increase the worth of the prize, a high school diploma and college degree to the nation’s most at risk. Policymakers need to employ practical solutions such as changing penal policy and ensuring equitable resource allocation to schools with subsidies to districts lacking high taxes to close the achievement gap and reduce the school to prison pipeline.
Ava DuVernay with the new documentary, 13th, PBS with the Rikers’ documentary and the New York Times with a series of articles are shining the light on the various injustices that exist. Since the aforementioned have the means to reach a larger audience, maybe something will be done. Just maybe. I say maybe because there is too much money being made by sending folks to prisons and jails. There are over two million people incarcerated and companies who employ prisoners enjoy the benefits. It is even cheaper than outsourcing. Some companies who benefit from prison labor include: Microsoft, IBM, AT&T, Target, Macy’s, Texas Instruments and more.
Will the government stop supporting the mass incarceration of America’s young people of color? Will young people want to learn the importance of black history and how it impacts their current experience?
Here are a few resources for Black History. Click on the pictures for the links.