We Have a Right To Expect Black History to Be Taught in our Schools
I am so proud of the White, Asian and Latinx educators throughout SFUSD who are taking the time this month to focus on Black achievements and culture. This simple act is one way we push back on hate. For the first time in I don’t know how long, my daughters’ school has planned schoolwide celebrations of Black History. Individual educators have highlighted it before, but never systemically.
I’ve stated this before. We need systemic answers to systemic problems.
Notice, the operative word is SYSTEMIC. There are many social-justice minded educators dedicated to creating safe, affirming and equitable schools for all children. (Thank you Teachers for Social Justice (T4SJ) for your ongoing work in this regard.) Nonetheless, our district’s, and frankly our entire education system’s piecemeal approach at supporting this work is far from adequate.
When we all do something TOGETHER — That’s when we build collective values.
Our school traditions and celebrations define us as a community. When schools only celebrate Black History in classrooms here & there, it sends a message: that Black culture is only valued in some ed. spaces.
The Danger of the Single Story
Novelist Chimamanda Adichie describes this as the Danger of the Single Story. When children see Black culture as defined only by slavery and MLK/Rosa Parks, it leads to children have a limited understanding of our culture & heritage. (I often recommend this to parents and eucators interested in starting conversations about why #representation matters.)
For years I have asked that my daughters’ schools elevate and celebrate Black History in their schools. I was the chair of the School Site Council for several years in their elementary. I had the support of both principals. Yet, even then, there was resistance among the staff. I’ve heard white and non-Black folks say they feel uncomfortable talking about race or teaching about Black culture because they don’t represent the culture.
By the way, you don’t have to speak for us. We can speak for ourselves. Educators can create space for us in the curriculum. They can center our stories and elevate our voices. This is just one example on Twitter
I'm going to go silent for #BlackHistoryMonth.
Instead of tweeting, I'll be tweeting others.
But especially Black Women.
— Bucky with the Good Arm (@benjancewicz) January 31, 2018
We Need to See our Stories
It wasn’t until I organized meet-ups with a few of the other Black families at our school that I saw any real substantive change. Families were very happy with the education our children were getting overall. Nonetheless, we wanted to see more representation in school curriculum, classroom libraries, etc.
At a district level, Black families want the same. Several years ago, (African American Parent Advisory Council) AAPAC parents asked the district to survey principals to see if they celebrated Black History Some principals didn’t even respond back. Others said they “didn’t have time.” Unfortunately, many SF schools feel they only have to elevate Black History if there are a large number of Black children. While it is important for Black children to see themselves represented, it is also important for non-Black children to see us valued and visible as well.
Even while there is no one perspective that can speak to the complexity of the entire Black experience, no matter what the skin tone, socio-economic status or schools our children attend, the need for representation is ONE AREA on which many Black families agree. We are tired of the anti-black racism we and children experience in our schools. We are frustrated by the consistent erasure we see in book lists and history lessons. And, we are frankly mad that we still have to bring this ish up… Didn’t our parents already fight this battle?
And let me be clear… this blog is focused on supporting SF parents and educators in public schools. Nonetheless, this is NOT. JUST. A. PUBLIC. SCHOOL. PROBLEM. (Just Google “Saint Ignatious” and “racist party” and see what comes up.) Any school system that doesn’t systematically address issues of race, class, language, immigration status, gender, and sexual identity, will invariably have to confront bias in the classroom at some point in time. And with all the bile coming out of the White House these days, it’s getting WORSE day by day.
Black Families Doing the Work
Now, more than ever, it is important for Black families to organize, and for non-Black allies to support us in our efforts.
This year, I and a small group of like-minded Northside Black families, decided to take a proactive approach. We organized parents in my elementary and middle school zone. We put together a list of questions for our schools, then shared them with the zone assistant superintendent and met with principals. We also shared them with our School Site Councils and Parent Teacher Organizations. For the first time in years (ever?) our schools will celebrate Black History Month school-wide!!!
Despite this success, it is not enough. Parents should not have to do this much work to see our culture visible. Especially when the very first SF public school was built by William Leidesdorff, a Black millionaire on land he donated to the city.
Our district says it champions social justice and equity and has enacted many progressive policies in my 20 as a Bay Area educator. Nonetheless, it has continued to address racism and anti-Black bias with a hodgepodge approach.