CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION
1. For African American learners, what does it mean to be educated?
2. For educators, what does it mean to teach African American learners?
THE AFRICAN AMERICAN LEARNER
Through a lifetime of teaching history and culture to African American youth, we can say without equivocation that African American youth are not educated until they are thoroughly aware of their history and culture. Not surface knowledge, but full emergence in the good, the great and not so good experiences of African Americans existence in Africa and America.
Unfortunately, African American students are contending with emotions they may find difficult to articulate. Black students are fighting forces that were strategically established to maintain academic neutrality, while other students have significantly more opportunities to excel because they are exposed to the contributions of their ancestors – daily celebrating their history, culture, and existence throughout history textbooks and society at-large.
Recent research regarding culturally-responsive teaching and learning affirms (find research) a direct correlation between students’ self-awareness and academic achievement.
The lack of historical content, as well as culturally-relevant literature, has been a significant influencer of negative outcomes for black students and communities including:
- Lack of self-awareness
- Lack of self-esteem
- Lack of intrinsic motivation
- Decreased academic achievement
- Discipline referrals
- Criminal and anti-social activity
- Premature death
ALL students benefit from learning about other cultures in much the same way as students of color benefit from learning about themselves. It is important for all learners to understand and acknowledge the contributions of persons from varied cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds in order to fully appreciate all of humanity. There is no dominant race, but individuals of shared ethnicities offer traits and talents that benefit society-at-large. When all students learn to grapple with their varied pasts, they are more prepared to create the future they deserve. There is an obvious societal benefit for African American students to achieve at their highest potential. African American students are educated when they are culturally-astute. Being culturally-astute matters!
EDUCATORS OF AFRICAN AMERICAN LEARNERS
For decades, and even centuries, teachers have been encouraged to tell a pretty lop-sided story. There is an immediate urgency to bring balance to this lop-sided story. Educators and decision-makers within the current system lack knowledge of black history and culture.
Educators follow state guidelines that encourage them to teach traditionally accepted African American heroes like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, but they have no knowledge of Joseph Cinque or Toussaint L’Ouverture. Students are allowed to read the literary works of Maya Angelou or Zora Neal Hurston but not James Baldwin. What happens when students are allowed to read “T.H.U.G. L.I.F.E.” by Sanyika Shakur?
Educators participate in the failure of historically underserved communities by:
- Accepting negative stereotypes
- Displaying biases
- Acting on fear of the unknown
- Refusing to acknowledge the contributions and challenges of African Americans
- Not challenging discriminatory behavior
- Challenging progressive movements that would bring more inclusive history and social studies curriculum
While, historically, teachers have not been “trained” to teach African American history, NABSE must aggressively search for and offer resources that will support the teaching of African American history and literature. Secondly, NABSE should endorse qualified professional coaches to help teachers begin to unlearn historical biases and show them how to teach well-rounded lessons that include and engage all students.
Although some educators have taken the initiative to be more inclusive in their delivery of history instruction, and some have also seen the value of including past and contemporary African American works of literature, there have been only a few states that mandate these instructional changes. Until 100 percent in state mandates is reached, NABSE must continue to expose the teaching of African American history and culture through our conferences.
Mrs. Crystel Polk – Director – Grants & Innovation
Crowley (TX) ISD)
Mrs. Connie Isabell – Deputy Supt. of Achievement
Crowley (TX) ISD)