As February ends, the debate about Black History Month goes on

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tags: Black History Month, Black History



Thumbnail Image -   Classroom By Malate269 - Own work

Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in 2014 graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia on how well their public schools taught the civil-rights era to students. Twenty states received a failing grade, and in five states—Alaska, Iowa, Maine, Oregon, and Wyoming—civil-rights education was totally absent from state standards. Overall, the study found less teaching of the civil-rights movement in states outside the South and those with fewer black residents. The report paints an unfavorable picture of schools where a crucial event in black history is largely ignored.

As a former student in Rockville, Maryland, Zia Hassan recalls February as the time when students were encouraged, or sometimes even mandated, to read the work of black authors, which he found meaningful. His view of Black History Month is more nuanced as an adult. “I believe that having a month for black history compartmentalizes the issue, as if once the month is over we can turn our attention away from it again until the next year,” said Hassan, a fourth-grade English language-arts teacher at Truesdell Elementary School in Washington, D.C.

Explaining his teaching philosophy, Hassan said a worthwhile history curriculum is one that would have “slavery and racism ingrained within it, just as it is in American society. It would not be discussed as a side issue.” He values a month when black authors and historical figures can be studied exclusively, but Hassan believes Black History Month as observed in many schools sends a troubling message to students that “we’re allowed to grapple with [black issues] less in, say, March or April … It is important to discuss issues of race in the context of current events throughout the year, no matter the unit topic.”




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