At the start of every February, teachers are often inundated with resources for teaching during Black History Month. At a time when the struggle for black civil rights is far from over, Black History Month brings crucial attention to often overlooked, excluded, and devalued history. However, many critique giving this history only one month. Relegating black history to February, rather than integrating it into curricula throughout the year, both devalues the importance of black history and accepts the teaching of incomplete American history during the rest of the year.
Black history is American history, and it is crucial that we integrate the stories of non-white people into our lessons year-round. This means going beyond the standard one-off lessons about Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, and Jackie Robinson, seeking out more comprehensive and inclusive resources, sharing the stories of less well known Americans of color, and integrating the perspective of non-white Americans into all of our lessons.
For example, a lesson on the Boston Massacre should include Crispus Attucks, the first casualty of the massacre who storytellers of the day largely omitted from their accounts. A lesson on the Great Depression should include the experience of black sharecroppers reckoning with the legacy of slavery. A lesson on feminism and women's rise into U.S. politics in the 1960s should include Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to the U.S. Congress.
This is not simply about adding bits and pieces of black history where applicable; rather, it’s about shifting the lens through which we approach teaching American history and moving away from using the dominant white narrative as the perennial starting place. When studying any moment in history, teachers should push students to consider, what was the experience of African Americans during this time period? And, if that information is hard to come by, what historical forces might be responsible? These stories should not be optional additions; they are integral to ensuring students truly understand our collective history.
Furthermore, teaching black history year-round is also a valuable investment in students' engagement and subsequent academic success. With 54% of K-12 public school students in the U.S. being non-white, it is essential that they see themselves represented in the history they learn at school. All teachers know that the more relevant a lesson is to students' lives, the more engaged they will be.
So, how can we integrate black history into our classrooms year-round? In the future, we envision creating comprehensive, inclusive history curricula, in which the stories and perspectives of non-white and white Americans are represented equally. In the meantime, here are a few of our favorite resources for getting started on your own:
- Black Lives’ Matter’s Black Futures Month, a collection of original pieces of art and accompanying descriptions that go beyond Black History Month’s focus on the past and “imagine what the future of Black life looks like.”
- PBS’s Black Culture Connect360, an extensive collection of videos, articles and digital interactives exploring different topics in black history.
- Zinn Education Project’s African American resources, lesson plans on less common topics in black history, including redlining, Hurricane Katrina, voting rights, and slave-owning presidents.
- PBS’s More Than A Month, a film and accompanying educator guide that are “designed to help students explore how different cultural groups are acknowledged in American history, media, and culture.”
- Showing Up For Racial Justice’s Black History Month Toolkit, a toolkit designed to help white people strengthen their commitment to racial justice and learn about less well-known black history. Includes resources for having conversations with white children about black history and race in America.
February may be over, but the history of non-white Americans has a place in our classrooms year round. At CarrotNewYork we work hard to integrate diverse perspectives into our curricula, and we hope you will too.