Friday, February 26, 2010

Black History Month

Last year in February a student in my classroom raised his hand and asked, "Why aren't we talking more about black people during Black History Month?" My response was fantastically eloquent, well-supported, understandable and acceptable: because the state doesn't require it and we're way behind with the things they want you to know.

Really? The second after that plopped out of my mouth the aftertaste blew my mind and woke me up to what I'd believed six months prior- that the last thing I thought I'd be doing was teaching to the test when I finally got my own classroom, but here I was justifying why I couldn't teach something really rather relevant to my students (African American history) by telling them the state required me to teach other things.

This issue with a disconnect from the curricula is a common problem the folks on the front line see. We're given our curricula and we do our best to deliver it to our students. Where we and the state falls down is in the fact that our students' ancestors are not readily included in the history we're teaching them. The version of American history I teach seems at times to come off to them like Portuguese history would come off to a Nebraskan. Many of my students simply don't care about what white people did to build this country up to what it is now; others are recent immigrants not by choice so much as a parental decision to make the move and really just want to go back to the country from which they were brought; still others are part of a population that hasn't been able to crawl out of the inner city and a long history of discrimination for various reasons. On top of all of that, my kids don't read very well, which makes studying any history in depth pretty difficult.

Figuring out exactly what to teach to students has been one of the most difficult parts of the job. The state wants me to teach a laundry-list of line-item historical facts, which is difficult to do without teaching to a test that is based more on recall of information than the testing of real skills. It's a test promoted by the state board of education, which is appointed by elected representatives in the state legislature which is popularly elected, though I would guess few even know who is in Albany speaking for them on these issues. To be honest I had to look up my own state senator and assemblyman after writing this.

I'm sure I'll write a long, ranting post about how pointless the eighth grade social studies exam is and how that is sad, but it suffices to say that after last year I'm not entirely concerned about the test-prep part of my curriculum. That said, it is still very possible to incorporate Black History Month into your curriculum if you feel it's worth it. As a teacher in the South Bronx it is definitely worth it- my students are asking to learn about it (something that happens very rarely in my class, and then only by an individual student). If I didn't take that request and run with it I'd be out of my mind.

Today's Wine: Bodegas Franco Espanolas Rioja Diamante 2008. That's a long name. Diamante is a semi-sweet wine that was recommended to us after we said we were looking for a Riesling for my parents. It was a very nice bottle that they enjoyed and that I did as well. Generally the wines they prefer are a bit too sweet for me, but this one hit the spot.


  1. I was looking for info on wine, but the black history or point of view on that. Thus far I've found that vineyards date from Arabic Georgie, 7000 years ago. Funny that I stumbled upon your page. I'm a chemistry highschool teacher, I'm black, but have no knowledge on black history and chemistry. Luckily, I'm educating myself now, so I can give a broader perspective. Like the fact that Garrett Morgan was the first one to patent a smoke mask and traffic lights. Two things that were never mentioned in the Dutch Chemistry books, but would make a hell of a difference if taught to the black children in Holland. Greetings from Aruba, where we teach the Dutch Curriculum, since it used to be a Dutch colony.

  2. I think it's really important to include elements of history to which the student as can relate directly (or nearly directly). Last year I included an entire unit on Bronx History to begin the year. It helped open up the students' minds to the fact that history CAN be about them and it grabbed there attention as we headed into the first unit of the state-mandated curriculum. This year I hope to integrate more Bronx/Immigrant history throughout the year as well.