Nearly 70 years after Brown v. Board of Education ended racial segregation in schools, most Black history courses taught across America are inadequate and under attack, several college presidents tell Axios. and historically black universities.
Why is this important: There has been a renewed and fierce debate around the role of race – and, in particular, black history – in school curricula as states propose measures to restrict teaching about the country’s racial past.
“I think it’s being stifled,” Howard University President Wayne Frederick said of black history programs in schools.
- “They’re trying to erase not just the history of these things that happen to African Americans, but really American history,” Frederick told Axios. “We need to take a stronger stance and be bold about this being American history – and it’s not going away just because you don’t tell people or limit who knows.”
- Black educators also face a growing atmosphere of racial hostility. On Tuesday, the first day of Black History Month, more than a dozen HBCUs were forced to close and cancel classes after receiving bomb threats.
- It was the second day of the week and the third day of last month that many HBCUs received such threats.
The big picture: In conversations with presidents and scholars from five HBCUs, three themes emerged as to why they believe the teaching of Black history in schools remains insufficient:
1) It is usually only taught during Black History Month, making it an incomplete lesson at best.
- “The first thing we have to recognize is that it’s not taught the same way everywhere,” Morehouse College President David A. Thomas told Axios. “In many places, black history is something that is taught once a year during the month of February.”
2) Black history is almost always taught as distinct from American history and even from world history.
- “You can’t tell the story of America without telling the story of black people in this country, so it’s beyond an academic experience,” said Larry Robinson, president of Florida A&M University.
3) Black History Education Should Extend Beyond the Classroom — and must include other forums like special museums, churches, exhibitions and events.
- “We have to make sure that we expose people to all these other places where black people can learn the details of their history or those who want to learn more about black history in general,” said Larry Robinson, president of the Florida A&M University at Axios.
- “I just don’t think we can depend on any system or process to tell the black experience.”
What they say : Some educators also want to reduce the focus on the usual personalities. Frederick told Axios that black history lessons should include education about everyday black heroes over the years — not just a handful of iconic black figures.
- Lessons should include “men and women who have gone through the African-American experience and done amazing things,” he said, pointing to the late Dr LaSalle Leffall Jr. — the first black president of the American Cancer Society.
- Tuskegee University President Charlotte Morris said some lessons may be incomplete or wrong: “Most of the time they are not taught by people who believe that African Americans have contributed to history. , and therefore the contributions are downplayed or attributed to another person who is not Black.”
- And some lessons ignore or minimize the most shameful aspects of our country’s history with the mistreatment of black people, Thomas said: “We haven’t learned to teach the aspects that speak to the brutality that comes with psychology. of white supremacy in our country.”
What to watch: Some HBCUs attempt to show how black history can be taught more fully outside of the classroom.
- At Tuskegee, Black History classes are integrated with extracurricular activities — including seminars, symposia, fairs, high school series, and lectures that “are designed to showcase excellence in history black people and immerse our students in the rich and complex facets of black history”. “, said Morris.
- Teaching black history at Howard University includes activities such as book clubs and engaging alumni who do good work in their communities.
- “We should be teaching how we’ve improved and progressed, and empowering young people to realize that if they don’t open their minds, we’ll end up there and repeat history,” Frederick said.
New rules limit how teachers can teach Black History Month