Dr. Carter G. Woodson, founder of what would eventually become Black History Month, wrote in his iconic 1933 book The Mis-Education of the Negro, “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his action… you do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit.”
Sadly, nearly 90 years later, educators are still decrying the “mis-education” endured by Black and Brown students. However, now, students have joined today’s chorus demanding Black Studies be included in K-12 curriculums, thanks, in part, to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to William Moore, an educational consultant with K-college classroom experience, one of the most egregious omissions of Black history from U.S. public schools is the fact that “Black people created the world’s earliest civilizations, tools, medicines, art forms, languages, religions, educational systems, agricultural, political and social structures.”
However, because Black History is most often taught with enslavement as the starting point, Dr. Daina Ramey Berry, a professor of American history at the University of Texas at Austin told NBC Philadelphia, “I feel like we’ve missed several generations of learning.”
Enter Generation Z, young people born between 1997 – 2012. Middle and high schoolers nationally, are pushing back against this mis-education and demanding African American Studies be included in K-12 curriculums. As a result, several states have either enacted changes (ex: Connecticut, New Jersey, Texas) or are currently considering them (i.e. Virginia and Washington).
COVID-19 has facilitated this growing national movement in two ways. First, the pandemic-induced home isolation meant all eyes were on the video of George Floyd’s death, resulting in a push not just for racial justice but also educational justice—the inclusion of Black history, literature, etc. in school curriculums.
Secondly, with online social media interactions becoming the pandemic norm, communication mediums already mastered by youth, Instagram and Facebook became their tools for organizing and pressuring school districts.
To support this youth-led push #DiversifyOurNarrative was born. This California-based initiative offers youth supports, including email templates, to facilitate their efforts. According to #DiversifyOurNarrative, more than 3,500 students in 250 U.S. school districts have become part of the movement.
In 2020, a five-plus year battle to get Black Studies in Texas schools finally came to fruition when the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) approved an elective African American Studies course for high school students beginning in the 2020-21 school year.
Houston activists played a major role in this victory. The Hermann Park Rotary Club (HPRC) Education Committee, led by Naomi Carrier, Jasmine Ayers and Dr. Robert Ford, worked with State School Board Member Lawrence Allen to help shape the final proposal based on a curriculum out of the Dallas/Ft.Worth area.
And when HISD showed no movement towards implementing the curriculum, a group of teens from Humble ISD added their voices to those demanding action.
NEGATIVE IMPACT OF MIS-EDUCATION
Why is this such a critical issue? Moore asserts when Blacks know little or nothing about their history it gives them a “pseudo-narrative” that has them believing the distorted media images about Blacks.
“It also nurtures the ‘culture of denial’ that says every culture that’s not European, especially Black culture, is less than valuable.”
In a 2019 post, educational blogger ShaRhond Knott-Dawson said, “Too often, students’ first exposure to Black History occurs through the study of slavery.
“Too often, Africans are portrayed in schools as savage, barbaric people. Those who came to the Americas were ‘lucky’ because they were saved from savage, unstable, poverty-stricken Africa. But the reality is, thousands of years of Black history existed before contact with Europe.”
Knott-Dawson added that part of the mis-education problem is teachers’ lack of knowledge about the fullness of Black history leaving many ill-equipped to teach students about ancient African civilizations.
And it’s not just Black students who suffer. Moore says all students end up programmed to believe Blacks are less intelligent, less industrious and have had little or no impact on U.S. or world history. These anti-Black biases continue into adulthood via anti-Black laws, policies and media images, and systemic, institutional mistreatments.
As an example, University of Houston history professor Dr. Gerald Horne points to the 1915 film Birth of a Nation, labeling it “a cinematic defamation of African-Americans, which led directly to physical assaults upon our people.”
The film, co-produced and directed by D.W. Griffith, and based off the novel and play “The Clansman,” depicted Blacks immediately after the Civil War as lazy, lust-filled savages hell-bent on raping white women. The movie portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as the heroes and saviors of civilization.
This erroneous mis-telling of history, Horne and other historians point out, played a major role in the Red Summer of 1919, the national wave of white domestic terrorism that saw Black individuals, businesses and communities ravaged by violence, lynching and land theft. The film also led to exponential membership growth for the Klan.
Other social commentators say the mis-telling of Black history has led elected officials and ordinary citizens alike viewing the over-criminalization of Blacks, along with police violence and voter suppression efforts against Blacks, seem “justified.”
EFFORTS AT CHANGE/SOLUTIONS
Though Gen Z is leading the fight to add serious color to school curriculums, this is by no means a new movement.
In 1926 Dr. Carter G. Woodson created Negro History Week in hopes of making Black History part of American and World History. Woodson’s contemporary, Dr. W.E.B. DuBois, pushed for the same, as did countless others, including Texas-born historian, the late Dr. Asa Hillard, and members of the HPRC.
Carrier says including Black history improves students’ “level of self-esteem to see themselves not only in books, literature and media, but see themselves as a part of a global community.”
Multiple studies show that when Black history is infused in school curriculums, Black students show an improvement in self-esteem, grades and attendance.
Many parents, however, have chosen to fight the lack of educational curriculum diversity by becoming part of the charter school and home school movements.
Moore reflected this mindset when stating, “The only solution is to write our own narrative, through print media, books, magazines, papers, social media, TV, radio, internet, movies, etc., to communicate who we are and where we come from.”
Moore also recommends Blacks build upon “the body of knowledge left from our great writers, historians, scholars, anthropologists, etc. of the past.”
Ayers, who was part of local efforts to get Texas to approve an African American Studies course, isn’t putting all her eggs in ISD baskets.
Echoing the urgency of Gen Z members, Ayers said, “If the school districts are not going to teach what we want them to teach, because we are part of the community and because students expect these classes that they’re not delivering on, then it’s up to the community, the village to help our kids.”
LET THE PEOPLE BE HEARD
Stop blaming schools. The school mirrors the community. If you don’t like what the school is producing, fix the community. If you fix the community, you fix the school. (Karla Brown)
Miseducation is the intentional, yet subtle, guidance of learners away from free thought. It is the antithesis of guided inquiry. (Mishael Mahmud)
The psychological warfare on Black people is fine-tuned and far-reaching. I am a product of K-12 miseducation. I had to learn to unlearn so much of what I was taught throughout my K-12 public school years and what I learned through my experiences of being subjected to an educational system controlled by the historical (and current) enemy of my people. (Sheena Fox)
K-12 miseducation is the natural outgrowth of the fallacy that is Public Education, children reduced to scores and percentiles. (Norma Thomas)
QUOTES FROM DR. CARTER G. WOODSON’S ‘THE MIS-EDUCATION OF THE NEGRO’
- “Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educations: ‘that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself… What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.”
- “As another has well said, to handicap a student by teaching him that his Black face is a curse and that his struggle to change his condition is hopeless is the worst sort of lynching.”
- “The oppressor has always indoctrinated the weak with his interpretation of the crimes of the strong.”
- “If you teach the Negro that he has accomplished as much good as any other race he will aspire to equality and justice without regard to race. Such an effort would upset the program of the oppressor in Africa and America.”