Posts Tagged ‘education’


Black History Month

   Posted by: Robert    in Philosophy

Across the country, as many schoolchildren and their parents are likely aware, February is Black History Month.  Started during the 1970s as an expansion of the former Black History Week, Black History Month is an opportunity used by schools to emphasize the contributions made by Blacks to the progress of American history.  As an opportunity to point out that Blacks have been involved throughout American history, Black History Month has proven itself to be at least marginally sufficient.  However, Black History Month misses the mark when it comes to showcasing the presence and importance of Black Americans in a way which is salient, long lasting, and fundamentally enriching to the lives of American students.

The evolution of Black History Month came out of a realization that Black history was consistently and systematically ignored by American historians.  Creation of the original Negro History Week, which would later become Black History Month, is credited to Carter Woodson, a professor of history and eventual dean of what today is Virginia State University. Dr. Woodson felt that a particular emphasis needed to be placed on teaching Black history, which at the time was seldom, if ever, part of the curriculum anywhere in America.  Indeed, Dr. Woodson noted that history would, at times, even be rewritten to exclude Blacks from the story of America’s past.  His hope was to overcome “the logical result of tradition, the inevitable outcome of thorough instruction to the effect that the Negro has never contributed anything to the progress of mankind.”

Now 90 years later, it’s hard to measure Dr. Woodson’s success to any level of certainty.  By and large, Black history is still not taught as an integrated part of the American story during the remaining eleven months of the year.  Outside Black History Month, the only inclusion of Blacks that I can remember being part of my history curriculum were Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas, and a few random mentions that Blacks occasionally did things other than be slaves up until the start of the Civil Rights movement.  Blacks were, of course, discussed as part of the Civil Rights movement — it would be impossible not to — including the mention of a number of Black  leaders.  Blacks disappeared again after the Civil Rights movement, although I imagine Barack Obama earns at least a mention in most classrooms today.

Black History Month itself seems to be something of a farce as far as actual history education is concerned.  Structured more along the lines of what one would expect of something called Black Trivia Month, my memories of Black History Month include mentions of a number of Black inventors, explorers, and scientists whose work remains valuable in today’s world.  Unlike the rest of my history education, which proceeded in roughly chronological order, my Black history education was set outside the curriculum timeline as a sort of encapsulated module which I would enter and from which I would emerge a month later in exactly the same place as where I began.  Nothing I learned was particularly inspiring, none of it made me want to learn more about Blacks, and most of it lacked any amount of context which would make it meaningful or memorable as part of a broader education.  Indeed, the only thing I remember from Black History Month is the fact that George Washington Carver invented peanut butter.

While the spreadable substance that goes great with jelly has had a significant impact on lunch boxes across America, I can’t help but feel that the importance of that memory rather misses a broader point.  Despite what Dr. Woodson may have hoped, Black history remains segregated from American history, and the separation is no more equal than the drinking fountains of yore.  Worse still, it seems that there are very few people who are even interested in having that conversation and there are no major proposals that I can remember for fully integrating Black history into the rest of the curriculum.  This is an area with an absence of leadership, but where a leader could likely make swift and decisive strides.

Black History Month needs to be about more than just history.  Blacks have been part of the story of America from the very first day and they will continue to be an important part of the American story long into the future.  This month should be a time to reflect on the place of Blacks in our history and in our society today.  It should be a time to talk about why we never learn the whole story of the founding and growth of our nation.

It’s time to fix the lingering inequities of our textbooks and rediscover the lost history of a third of our fellow Americans.  That is, after all, what Black History Month is all about.

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Re: Politicized Curriculum in Texas

   Posted by: Robert    in Politics

In the editorial section of the New York Times, the editorial author takes a look at curriculum revisions currently working their way through the school board in Texas.  In describing the curriculum as “politicized,” and in light of the general tenor of the article, it is apparent that the author does not think highly of the changes going on in Texas.  The gut reaction the author intends to solicit, I’m sure, is revulsion at the idea that education in Texas is devolving into yet another political wasteland.  The charge is interesting, and worthy of attention.

Taking for granted that the curriculum in Texas has indeed become politicized, and that this is a bad thing, the obvious question to ask is, “What can be done about it?”  Answering that question depends on properly understanding how education became politicized in the first place.  The author identifies “social conservatives” as the group responsible for the political education that children in Texas may soon receive.  In reaching his answer, the author misses the deeper issue.

To understand how politics gets into the Texas curriculum, the most important factor is the composition of the school board itself.  At present, the Texas school board consists of five Democrats and ten Republicans, with elections every four years.  This makes the composition of the Texas school board identical to almost every public school board in the country: It is 100% composed of politicians.

Whenever politicians become important in any decision making process, it’s a sure bet that the results will be political. To state that any public school curriculum is politicized is to state the obvious.  Of course, what the author undoubtedly means but is not quite prepared to say outright is not that he minds the Texas school board being politicized, but that he minds it reaching a political result with which he disagrees.  Were the school board to have voted to emphasize Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists, the benefits of FDR’s New Deal including Social Security, and the great importance of the United Nations to international peace efforts and human rights, I doubt the editorialist would complain very much about politicization at all.

If I am mistaken and the author is truly concerned about politicization of education whether he agrees with the politics being taught or not, then the only real answer is to get rid of the politicians.  This is an area where private education, possibly supported by school vouchers, would be extremely effective.  I know that I would sooner trust a professional educator over a politician to decide what’s best to teach my children.

If, however, the editorialist’s problem is with the outcome, then the real lesson here is a lesson in democracy.  As the political process creates and builds powers, we all run the risk that those powers might be used in ways we do not approve.