As Black History month draws to a close, I am left wondering (as I do every year) why this important subject is continually relegated to one month. It is particularly troubling for me to think of all the kids in school who only get snippets of information and lessons over one measly month out of the year. The more important question that I always seem to reach is, why isn’t race talked about more in school?
I graduated high school in 2005, which is a long time ago, but not so far gone that I don’t remember most of my years and time in school. I have memories of learning about influential African Americans and having our history lesson about the civil right’s movement fall within Black History Month. However, it wasn’t until I started my college education that I really learned about race and the history of race in the United States. It was eye-opening, frustrating and fascinating all at the same time.
I had learned about Jim Crow laws, the three-fifths compromise and other prominent African American history events. What we never learned though is that race is a social construct. We never learned that the idea of race was created entirely in the attempt to prove that people who were not white were genetically inferior. I remember being angry that I hadn’t learned this in highschool, but I also noticed that most of my classmates were in the same boat with varying degrees of feelings about it.
My freshman writing class was devoted to reading and writing about African American history and after that class I was hooked. I jumped at every opportunity to take class about race, ethnicity or African American history. This by no means makes me an expert, but I learned enough through those classes to realize that my years in school had truly failed in respect to teaching me about race. The degree to which the information I learned “shocked and awed” me is enough evidence in and of itself.
I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Social Studies with the hopes of becoming a teacher. After graduation, I spent a full school year student-teaching at a school in the Lansing area. In the second semester I had one class in which I was able to choose the subject matter. I chose 20th Century conflict knowing that I would have ample opportunity to teach about race. I did my best to break down the idea of race and, at the very least, have the kids leave knowing that no matter what color we are, we were all cut from the same cloth. In the end, I’m not sure if my lessons truly got through to them. There are some who might argue that the idea of race as a social construct is too dense for high schoolers. I imagine there are plenty of parents who would have a huge problem with this subject because they firmly believe that race is not a social construct.
I never ended up finding a teaching job and have since moved on from that career path. I stay in contact with teachers though (including my husband and one of my sisters) and, from what I can tell, race still isn’t talked about enough in school. I refuse to believe that high schoolers aren’t ready for at least the basics and truly think it should be an important part of our content standards (current Michigan content standards can be found herehttps://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/SS_HSCE_9-15-09_292358_7.pdf). Perhaps in other states, or more progressive school districts, race is already taught in the manner and depth for which it deserves. I can only speak to my own experience and maybe things have gotten better in the school I attended. From what I understand though, we still have a long way to go when it comes to widening the scope of race education in our schools.
There is a wealth of information about starting the conversation about race on the Internet, but this one remains my favorite:
PBS - Race: The Power of an Illusion
After writing this I found an article about a teacher in my area and am thrilled that he decided that race was worth discussing in his classroom.