When a country reflects on its history, it is typically taught through the perspective of the dominant demographic. Think about that for a moment. By only sharing our history through that lens, we remain blind to the incredible and impactful contributions of ALL of our people. We lose an instrumental piece to our American quilt – the inventors, the scientists, the writers, and the explorers who do not fit the majority demographic. The very fabric of our nation is weaved with remarkable contributions from many different ethnic and cultural backgrounds. These changemakers contributed greatly to the shaping of our country and their stories deserve to be told in unison.
Let’s find ways to immerse our students into lessons that shine a light on the accomplishments of Black Americans. Not just THIS month, but in our everyday practice.
Use February as a Stepping Stone
Because February IS Black History Month, this is the perfect opportunity to jump in. Be intentional about incorporating this work into your planning. Set aside 15 minutes a day to highlight the accomplishments of a Black American in our history. This resource, Learn Something, Do Something!, is an easy way to do just that. It links to daily activities you can do with your students throughout the entire month of February.
Consider incorporating a Feature Friday activity. Have students research a Black American who has made a difference. Then, have them pick a Friday during the month to present their research to the class. Give students the choice in what they want to create to present their information. They can create and recite a poem. Suggest they design a shoe box diorama, create a virtual biography, or write and perform a skit. Make the sky the limit and see what wonderful work they can develop.
Challenge Our Thinking
As an elementary teacher, specifically 4th grade, I was afforded the opportunity to teach about our nation’s history. I loved teaching this! From the creation of our government to the Great Migration to the Industrial Revolution – this was the stuff that really piqued my interest, and my students would feed off of the love and passion I had for our nation’s history. Although looking back, one thing I wish I would have put more of a concerted effort into was in creating learning opportunities around successes beyond the historical American “mainstays”. If we don’t teach about the significance of Frederick Douglass as we do that of Abraham Lincoln, we lose these moments to truly solidify their place in our history.
So, ask yourself, “How can I help paint a clearer picture of our American history for my students?” One way to do this is for every White American inventor, pioneer, writer, or scientist that we teach to our students, highlight a Black American, Hispanic American, or Asian American who has also contributed to the growth and development in this field.
As a child living in New Jersey, I grew up in a low-middle class neighborhood. I was incredibly fortunate. Fortunate because I was able to be a part of an incredibly diverse community. I learned about Puerto Rican culture and cooking, and discovered how music and dance held hope for freedom and liberation for my friends’ slave ancestors. I learned about the significance of the Chinese New Year and got to participate in a lantern festival which to this day has been one of the coolest things I have ever been a part of.
But my in-school experience was a bit different. I can only recall learning about a few significant Black American historical figures outside of Martin Luther King, Jr. And while he was, without question, one of the greatest to ever walk this earth, there are hundreds more who have also helped shape this great nation. I have made it my goal this year to invest time into learning about those less famous Black American changemakers. I was led to a few good sources for exploring this and I’d love for you to check them out as well. We as teachers have the power to help shape our students’ understanding of the world around them. Let’s do that with fairness and equality at the forefront. Let’s be as inclusive as possible — and let’s lean on each other for the support we need to get there.
Want to learn more about the impact Black Americans have had on history? Download four FREE mini lessons that will keep your students engaged while learning more about the remarkable contributions of Black Americans.
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