I remember when Morgan Freeman called Black History Month “ridiculous.” I was surprised at the time, hearing a prominent black actor say such a thing, because it never occurred to me that black people might not actually be fans of Black History Month. After some thought, however, Mr. Freeman’s frustration made a lot of sense. If you designate a particular time for something, isn’t the underlying premise that that thing is not the norm?
Now that I spend most of my time in a black community–surrounded by black kids, black families, and mostly black colleagues–Black History Month seems even more of an oddity. Right now, my school is littered with bulletins and posters about Black History Month. Across classrooms (including my own), light-hearted research projects are being conducted on famous historical black Americans and their contributions to both black and American history. And of course, every kid wants to do MLK Jr.
Yet, the question goes unanswered… what is “black history?” More, what is it about “black history” that requires recognition outside of the “normal” history curriculum, and does this necessity still exist?
I struggle with how to teach these and similar questions in a classroom of black 6th graders (not to mention, as a white woman). Most of them haven’t learned yet to be frustrated by the barriers that they will face because of their skin color, and most of them value Black History Month as a part of their schooling. This week, my class conducted research projects and gave presentations on MLK, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass, Ella Fitzgerald, and Harriet Tubman (all classics, of course). My students thoroughly enjoyed the research and presenting, and from what I can tell, telling the stories of black American’s they admire is rewarding for them. By faciltating these projects and devoting time to Black History Month in my classroom, I somehow am signifying its importance.
Every Friday, I lead a Socratic Seminar in my class based around a “big question.” This week’s big question, after all the work we’ve done, is “Is Black History Month important?” I don’t expect my kids to understand the concept of a post-racial world, especially since, like me, they are growing up in an incredibly racially homogenous environment. But I would like to be able to show them that the value of things like this isn’t just a given. That there are multiple sides to a story.
I’ll show them the Morgan Freeman video and have them read a couple of articles on the significance (or lack thereof) of Black History Month. And here’s where you come in… I would like to share with them other ideas and responses to the big question to spark their thinking. So, if you’re willing, please consider and respond to the following questions:
- Is, in fact, Black History Month important? Why or why not?
- Is teaching Black History Month any more important in a majority white school than a black school or vice versa?
- How is Black History different, if at all, from American History?
- Is there a day when Black History Month will no longer be necessary? What does that day look like?
I’d like to share some “exemplar” comments with my kids tomorrow. So be bold, thought-provoking, and middle school appropriate :). I look forward to your responses!