High School Students Are Demanding Schools Teach More Black History, Include More Black AuthorsBreaking News
tags: education, African American history, high school, teaching history
As he watched the protests over George Floyd’s killing sweep across America, 17-year-old Hussein Amuri thought about how most of the authors he read in English class — like most of the teachers at his high school in Winooski, Vt. — are White. In Belmont, Mass., Ikenna Ugbaja, also 17, recalled the large bell on the campus of his private, all-boys school — a bell once used to summon enslaved people on a Cuban sugar plantation.
And in Omaha, 18-year-old Vanessa Amoah thought about how her high school taught Black history like it was “a different thing” than American history. She — like Amuri, like Ugbaja — decided it was time for change. All three teenagers, although strangers, unaware of each other and separated by thousands of miles, launched campaigns demanding their schools teach more Black history, among several reforms meant to promote racial equity.
“The education system is where people form values other than what their parents have,” Amoah said. “George Floyd, Philando Castile — none of it would have happened if this country worked on proactively teaching anti-racist values.
“It is a chain,” she said. “It starts with a racist joke, and not teaching kids about this in class, and it escalates. We have to start at the base.”
They are among a wave of young people throughout the country who are banding together to demand education reform wherever they attend school: at large public systems, elite private schools or small parochial institutions. Teenagers and recent graduates are publishing online petitions, sending letters to their alma maters and testifying at virtual board meetings. They are asking for the inclusion of more Black history in curriculums, a more thorough teaching of events such as the Civil War and a more diverse range of authors in English syllabi.
Their demands extend beyond the classroom: Many are also calling for the removal of armed police in school hallways, the hiring of more Black and Hispanic teachers and for anti-racist trainings for students and staff.
Students have advocated for curriculum reform before in American history. But this moment is unique in several ways: For one thing, it’s taking place in the midst of a pandemic that has plunged the nation into crisis. Still, the shifting of human interaction online has actually played into students’ hands — more adept at social media than adults, teens are making canny use of sites such as Facebook and Instagram to plan reforms, put pressure on school officials and draw inspiration from other activists.
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