I am always excited to share African American history with my students but when February comes I am really excited. I love to just engulf my student in the rich history of African Americans. My students come in knowing the stories of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington Carver but I am still amazed by how much they don’t know when they get to me. For example, like the stories of the riches man in the world, Mansa Musa, or the story of Madame C.J. Walker, a true story of starting from the bottom. As you begin sharing African American History with students there are a few things I want you to keep in mind.
Don’t start with slavery
This is an absolute no no! Slavery is the worst part of African American history. There are so many other parts of African American History we can begin with. As an African American teacher and a minority when it come to the field of education I know that sometimes the first time my students hear about African American history is when it comes from my mouth. This is why when I present this history I begin on a positive note. Slavery is the worst part of African American history but Africans had a strong history before slavery. Start with African history. Discuss Mansa Musa, the richest man in the world or the Kingdom of Ghana or Civil rights or my personal favorite The Harlem Renaissance. Please Please don’t start with slavery.
Connect African American history to other cultures
This is a thought that never really crossed my mind. .As I listened to another colleague discuss this with her students I was intrigued. All minority groups have had to fight for their rights to be accepted in American in some shape or form. Adding other cultures to the conversation does not diminish the importance of black history but enriches students understanding that all people have struggled and overcome. This helps students of other cultures relate to black history on a deeper level.I will be making this connection in my classroom from now on.
Check your Facts
Everything on the internet is not the truth. Before you begin discussing African American history or any history make sure you have facts from books and resources that can be trusted. When I teach history to students I want to be sure that what I am teaching them is the truth. Remember when you heard the true story of Christoper Columbus. There is a whole generation of students who thought he was a hero when in fact he was just the opposite. African American history has been left out of history books or whitewashed, diluted to leave out facts, in lots of cases. It takes us all to teach the correct history to our students, giving them age appropriate facts and not diluting the history.
If you are not sure ask an African American friend
I know that sounds like a skit from Amber Ruffin but I am so serious. Now listen, don’t just go up to some random person and ask them African American History questions. Ask someone you know. Don’t ask them to teach you about African- American history but it is very acceptable to ask specific questions. I recently had some colleagues ask me questions as they were preparing their lessons for black history month. I was proud that they had the courage to ask and glad they cared enough about our students to be sure their lessons were factual and culturally sensitive. Sidenote: Being African American doesn’t mean you automatically know all the history. We have been taught by our families, at church and we’ve also had to study to learn our history too.
Teach students about historical figures past and present
During African American history month we see lots of biographies. This is a great idea, the history is important and students enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to allow student to research less well know figures. You can take this process deeper by creating digital biographies or having students create a lapbook. The lapbook creates a hands on experience for students. The digital experience helps prepare students with virtual skills they will need for life. Both experiences will require students to research. This is a good time to teach students to create works cited pages.
Don’t be afraid to allow student to research less well know figures. What I always tell my students as they write biographies is to “Pretend this is your story, how would you want it told?” This encourages them to dig a little deeper. I also remind them that their version could be the first time someone has heard this story, make sure you tell it well. Researching figures who are making history right now is also important, students need to know that history is not just something that happen 50 years ago but that people are still making history today.
Make Cross Curriculum Connections
One way I do this with my students is to combine a biography with another subject. For example when we discuss Daniel Hale Williams, the first African American to complete a successful heart surgery, we also talk about the heart and how it works. Don’t only discuss the figure but use their accomplisments to connect to another subject. You could discuss Langston Hughes and have the students write a piece of poetry. Having students memorize facts is great but when we make connections across the curriculum our students gain a deeper understanding to what we are teaching. Think about what students can make, do, or create when teaching biographies.
I know there are so many ways you are sharing African American History with your students, but please keep these in mind. Please don’t start with slavery and Connect African American History with other cultures. Check your facts, and if you are not sure ask an African American. Remember to teach students about figures from the past and present and make cross curriculum connections. These are just a few ways you can share African American history with your student.