black history month parenting textbooks

Black (and Brown) History, That’s Not in the Textbook?

Posted on Posted in Blog, Parenting's Not Easy, Raising Children of Color, School Me on Research

Black (and Brown) History, That’s Not in the Textbook?

‘Curriculum always represents somebody’s version of what constitutes important knowledge and a legitimate worldview’ Grant and Sleeter



Have you perused any of your children’s textbooks lately?  Did you happen see anyone who looked like them? Chances are that you didn't. Or if you did, they weren't in a very positive or influential role.  When I was in grade school if it wasn't Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Rosa Parks or slavery there was no mention of the many ways in which people of color contributed to the making of America.  Even then the mentioning of slavery was more like a confession of sins from the past, or a definition, than it was an exploration of injustices and oppression against one group of people.  It was not until I took an African American Studies course in college that I realized how much my grade school experience cheated me out of understanding the many ways Black people contributed to America.  Now that I look at my own three children’s social studies experiences, history, or lack thereof, is repeating itself.
After the ruling of Brown v. Board the main concern for Black parents was gaining access to better resourced schools.  While Black students may have gained a better facility, they often lost teachers and schools who:
  • fought hard to prepare them academically,
  • knew their community well,
  • and demonstrated an appreciation Black history and culture 
Black teachers would proudly tout the accomplishments of Blacks with Negro History Week and Emancipation Proclamation Day.  Black students lost this when they transferred to White schools, leaving parents with the sole responsibility to transfer their knowledge of Black history at home.  The result today is that too few U.S. high schoolers know about momentous occasions like the Civil Rights movement.  Who can blame then when:
  • only 19 states specifically require teaching Brown v. Board of Education,
  • while 18 states require coverage of MLK;
  • 12,states require the teaching of Rosa Parks;
  • 11 states require the teaching of the March on Washington;
  • and six states require the teaching of Jim Crow segregation policies.
It’s not just the Civil Rights Movement.  People of color are hard to find in most grade school textbooks. One recent study found - after looking through 47 textbooks, in social studies, reading, language arts, science and mathematics used in grades 1-8 between 1980-1988 -  that:
  • 70% of people in pictures were White in 8 books
  • Over 60% of the people pictured were White in 4 books
  • Over 40% of the people were White in 2 books
  • About two-thirds of the Whites depicted were males (portrayed as explorers, soldiers, government officials, citizens, leaders, scientists and inventors – rarely any Whites depicted negatively)
Students understanding the contributions of Blacks can aid in positive youth development.  Social studies textbooks, at the very least, should include the contributions, experiences and versions of history from people like Robert Smalls, Stokely Carmichael and Ella Baker (just to name a few).  Additionally, it seems only fair for black students to know what people of African descent were doing before Europeans arrived in Africa, much in the same way the history textbooks discuss what was going on in Europe before European explorers finally made something out of their ventures to the Americas. Both, in my opinion, are a version of history worth repeating.

How Does Your Child’s School Deal with Black History?


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