Monday, February 18, 2008

Moving Past February

I’ve spent most of this afternoon helping Olivia with her Black History Month project. She’s in the 3rd grade and this is her first big school project.

The assignment is to select a notable African American, read their biography, preferably a book, and next Monday make a visual presentation to the class and submit a two-page report detailing all you’ve learned about your selected hero/heroine.

On its face, I appreciate the teacher’s efforts to engage everyone in the class in learning more about African Americans, but to be completely honest, I bet when Dr. Carter Woodson first launched Negro History Week in 1926, he had no idea our nation would still be so woefully negligent in acknowledging and celebrating the contributions of African Americans, not to mention that of Latin Americans, Asian Americans, women, etc.

I also take issue with the teacher’s requirement that the source material for the selected notable be a book. In fact, when we went to the library to get a book on the subject of Olivia's report, the librarian noted that due to budgetary cutbacks, most small libraries have limited collections and librarians often direct patrons to use the Internet for this type of research. She stressed the need to teach students how to identify credible Internet sources.

In the grand scheme of things, there are very few biographies written about a great number of notable African Americans. As much as I respect and honor the contributions of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, there are countless other, untold stories that need to see the light of day, and children shouldn’t have to wait until February to learn about these folks and their contributions. Hell, why not be truly revolutionary and integrate them into the daily lesson plans, so when teaching children about the American Red Cross, mention Dr. Charles Drew’s system for storing blood plasma; and how Garrett Morgan’s invention of the traffic light saves million of lives daily; and let’s not forget to mention Dr. Selma Burke, a sculptor who designed Roosevelt’s image on the dime, when teaching children about the denomination of coins.

Let’s move beyond African American history people and call it (and teach it) what it really is… AMERICAN HISTORY.


Gypsy at Heart said...

Hi Mango Mama, I found your blog through Melissa the Mouth. Glad I did. That was a very interesting read as an introductory post for me to your blog. I couldn't agree more with what you've said. The label of African before the heading of American History detracts rather than adds because it boxes in. All African American contributions are an intrinsic part of US history. It is long past due that everyone should see it as such. Always stressing the separation does not help any towards this goal. I cannot help but remember a lovely European friend of mine who has made it her life's crusade to not allow herself to be boxed in. Whenever asked for her race or ethnicity she ignores what she is given to choose from, draws an extra square puts her X in it, and then she writes 'human' next to it. I've always agreed with her on this.

Anonymous said...

Definitely agree. Everything should be an opportunity to learn something new. I'm going to make more of an effort to do that with my son.

As many times we've been in the car together I've never mentioned Garrett Morgan.