We Are the We That We Need
The backlash against Black history discouraged a Black teacher enough to quit. But, that doesn't mean we quit our history - we just do it ourselves.
Rann Miller | Guest Contributor
Mr. Michael James, a special education teacher of 15 years, quit his position as a teacher in Florida where Ron DeSantis has openly fought against the teaching of Black history in schools. It all came to a head when a White school district employee removed posters of Black figures, including Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King, and President Barack Obama, all because, according to the employee, they were not age appropriate.
This is just the latest example of the backlash against “Critical Race Theory (CRT)” impacting (Black) educators in real time. Add this to the invisible tax against Black teachers — which doesn’t help to address the current national teacher shortage or the turnover amongst Black teachers.
The state of Pennsylvania is dealing with the teacher shortage issues, especially the lack of Black teachers. The state is attempting to do something about that along with other organizations.
However, situations like the example of what happened to Mr. James shows that for Black educators, bringing your Blackness in the form of pride and encouragement for students, at the very least, may be “unacceptable” — even at a district or a school that is populated predominantly by Black children and families.
This was the case for Mr. James’ school. It was predominately Black.
What this means for Black parents is that we are faced with the reality that the history of our people may very well be absent from the curriculum and instructional priorities of our children’s classroom learning. That can happen either by accident or intentionally.
As both a Black educator and parent, I can say that it’s important to understand that schools are, ultimately, White institutional spaces. Either those in charge don’t have the knowledge, know-how or the (political) will to incorporate cultural responsiveness within teacher pedagogy or Black history within classroom instruction.
So, what do we do, a part from advocacy on behalf of our children (and others) that Black history be taught and American history be taught transparently? We must be committed to do this work ourselves. The truth is, it’s work that we (Black folk) have always done.
It is the collective work of developing and teaching our children their history in a way that is culturally relevant so that they’re prepared for the world awaiting them.
How do we do that, especially with the hustle and bustle of everything else going on in our lives?
Black Curriculum Models
First and foremost, we must, as Dr. Greg Carr of Howard University implores, lean on the momentum of memory and not reinvent the wheel. Culturally relevant Black curricula for various content areas (e.g. math, science and literature) already exist. Black educators have done this for decades. We must tap into that which already exists and modify for our current day challenges and deliver this to our generation of children. I’m not saying we cannot create something new, but why do that (and improperly manage our time) when the ancestors have already done the work?
An example is the Freedom Schools Curriculum created by activists from SNCC, NAACP, CORE and SCLC as free alternative schools for Black children in the South, centered on educating children on their social, political and economic rights. That’s a good starting point of institutional memory that we can draw from.
There are eve more recent curricula we can access, like the Wakanda Curriculum by Dr. Walter Greason of Monmouth University in New Jersey. It’s inspired by the history of Black creative expression and cultural analysis. There is also the Buffalo Syllabus, inspired from the recent terrorist attack in Buffalo, NY that killed ten Black people and wounded three others.
We can introduce those resources to our schools and encourage them to utilize them, of course. However, if they don’t, we need to find or create those institutions that will.
Those institutions exists. Take the Philadelphia Freedom Schools for example. There are other institutions as well, all over the country. We must reach out to the already established community schools like Freedom School, led and taught by Black scholars and then send our children there. These institutions include after and out of school programs and Saturday schools.
Along with that, we must financially support our institutions.
One of our great institutions, for example, is the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, founded by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the creator of “Black History Month.” He chose not to
accept money from White philanthropists for fear of their surveillance of his work and dictating what the association could do. Black people themselves funded the association and by doing so, enabled Dr. Woodson to research Black history and provide information to Black teachers to teach Black children.
If we were to fund our current institutions to teach our children, we could facilitate 1) our kids getting what we need while 2) supporting our community simultaneously.
Lastly, we mustn’t be afraid to engage in doing the intellectual work of digging and learning our history ourselves. We can teach our children ourselves, as parents and as families. There are so many great and important books that I could recommend that our folks should read (if they haven’t already). But learning happens best as a community.
A great community to join is Knarrative, the brainchild of SiriusXM radio host Karen Hunter, whose mission is to help Black people, across the Diaspora, know our history, create our own stories, and understand ourselves through explorations of the past so that we can grow brighter futures. All of this can happen using an African Studies Framework to do so.
An anti-Black society wasn’t something only our parents and grandparents faced. We currently face it, too, and will, unfortunately, in to the future. The truth is we cannot expect for this social structure to meet our needs exclusively. We must fight for our human rights, but we ourselves must also meet our needs. Thankfully, we don’t have to start from scratch, and we don’t have to disengage from society to do so. We have a governance structure designed for us to lean on and lean in to to help us navigate the society we must function within. We must simply develop the stamina to give our children what they deserve.
We have each other and we are all the “we” that we need.